by Alexandra Drane

June 2012 -Every generation has its legacy – whether it’s toppling dictators, championing civil rights, or changing attitudes around sex, drugs, and rock & roll. These formative events tend to imprint a person’s attitudes for life – thus shaping generational profiles.

Consumer advertising, of course, has generational tailoring down to a science, and we’d argue that it’s a technique we should also use when designing engaging healthcare communications. After all, understanding the attitudes, motivations, and beliefs of different generations helps better engage them in conversations that feel relevant enough to inspire healthy behavior change.

One of the interesting generational trends we’ve been tracking is the changing attitudes that people have around their doctors. On one hand, there’s a lot of momentum behind the medical home concept ( – which promotes better care experiences by strengthening partnerships between patients, their personal physicians, and when appropriate, the patient’s family. That model offers huge positive potential. On the other hand, it also begs the question of how patients of different generations view their doctors’ word in a world where more and more people turn to Google as their first stop for healthcare information.

In fact, more and more people are taking a more active role in the way they access, process, and ultimately take action on healthcare information – this more “independent” attitude towards health is starting to edge out the more traditional belief that doctors always know best. Research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project puts some numbers on the trend:

18% of internet users say they have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs

Younger people are more likely to look online than older folks; English speakers more likely than Spanish speakers

One in 4 internet users living with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions, lung conditions, cancer, or some other chronic ailment say they have gone online to find others with similar health concerns (compared to 15% of those who report no conditions)

From our perspective, Health Engagement Management – which is all about getting people to make healthier decisions – is predicated on understanding (and leveraging) what makes people “tick.” To that end, when we’re interacting with people about their health, we often take the opportunity to find out how they think about their doctor. In line with industry research, we find that younger generations generally put less faith in their doctor’s word when it comes to health information. 70% of the “GI” (born between the years 1901 and 1924) and “Silent” (born between the years of 1925-1945) generations cite their doctor as the most trusted source – while Millennials (born between the years of 1982-2001) peg that number at a mere 28%. Baby Boomers – the generation to which we should all be paying the most attention – are right in the middle at 48%. What does this mean? How do we incorporate such massive swings into what we do? We have to resist the urge to make broad sweeping statements commensurate with the going belief that providers are the holy grail. No doubt, providers are enormously important to getting folks to start and keep taking better care of themselves, but our relationships with our doctors is individual. So we need to develop solutions that meet people where they are in all aspects of their life – including their current relationship (or perhaps lack of relationship) with their doctor. By engaging people in non judgmental and inclusive ways, we can help walk with them to where we want them to be – which is a place surrounded by the most supportive and influential infrastructure for them personally, one that doesn’t have to be provider-centric to be provider-leveraging.

For example:

Assess and address what people really look for in a doctor. Regardless of whether or not their doctor is their trusted source of information, understanding what attributes a person looks for a doctor facilitates smart matchmaking. We’ve found that while subjective attributes (like a doctor who’s good at explaining things) typically win out over more objective attributes (like doctors who offer their patients online access to records), so it’s important to tease out what “a good doctor” means to different people – and speak to those preferences when you can.

Ditch the usual for a ‘surprise and delight’ approach: For people who think they’ve heard it all, simply adding a touch of joy to a message can make it resonate so much more. For example, women who receive a slightly flirty, unexpected mammogram message (“Believe it or not, there’s a mammography machine out there that really misses you…do you think you’ll visit soon?”) are 26% more likely to schedule a mammogram than those who hear a reminder that’s more clinical in nature. Of course, a good interaction also offers more information for people who want to learn more about whatever you’re selling – including the importance of your doctor.

Close the loop with providers: Offer physicians insight into what people are saying about their health behaviors outside of office hours. For example, we find in our interactions with people that up to 30% of women aren’t getting their recommended colorectal cancer screening because they incorrectly assume colorectal cancer afflicts only men. Self-reported barriers like these can act as great springboards for face-to-face conversation when those visits do happen.
Meet people where they are in life – literally. Health happens during that 90-something percent of the time we’re not in the doctor’s office. Creating a “surround sound” experience lets you engage people in their health when and how they are best ready to engage –like a tailored email that includes links to relevant social media support groups.

Meet people where they are in life – figuratively. Sometimes the things that impact our health the most don’t even come up when we’re at the doctor’s office. Things like crushing financial stress or the demands of caring for an aging parent may not show up in claims data, yet they have a huge impact on people’s ability to manage their health today and in the near future. In fact, we’ve found that the combination of life challenges a person is dealing with, along with the positive and negative coping mechanisms they have, has more than 3 times the impact on health than the impact of their medical conditions alone. The good news there is that when asked, upwards of 80% of people say that they’d be eager to accept help from their doctor (or even their health plan or employer) for dealing with these more non-traditional health issues.

There’s a revolution going on right now, with more resources than ever aimed at helping people do their own health research on their own time. We believe that like the revolutions that have come before it, each generation will find their balance – including when it comes to making decisions about how to take better care of themselves, and their families. We may have the opportunity to influence that revolution – and we most certainly have the responsibility to respect it.

About the Author

Alexandra Drane is Founder, Chief Visionary Officer, and Chairman of the Board of Eliza Corporation, pioneer and leader in Health Engagement Management and one of Entrepreneur magazine’s “100 Brilliant Companies”. The company’s intelligent, tailored interactions – including automated calls powered by a patented speech recognition engine, rich web and multi-modal delivery platform and proprietary sophisticated data analytics – make health and healthcare information more accessible, more actionable and more engaging.

Alexandra is also a co-founder of Engage with Grace, a not-for-profit movement aimed at helping people understand, communicate and have honored their end-of-life wishes. In 2010 she co-founded a non-profit, web-based movement called SeduceHealth that aims to reframe how the healthcare industry communicates with the people it serves by adding greater passion, joy, and inspiration.

Alexandra sits on the board of Eliza, the Board of Trustees for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (a Harvard Teaching Hospital) in Boston, MA, the Board of Advisors of TEDMED, and the Harvard Executive Sleep Council, the Board of Directors and the Operations Committee of the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), and co-chairs C-TAC’s Public Engagement Workgroup, and is a trustee of several charitable trusts. Alexandra has been named to the Boston Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list and also appears on the Healthspottr Future Health 100 list, which includes some of the most creative and influential people working in healthcare today.

You can reach Alexandra directly at (978)-921-2700.


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