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In Your Head | May/Jun '14

What is your impression of the millennial vs baby boomer mindset?

Jacqueline Beltz, BMedSci, MBBS(Hons), FRANZCO

For me, it is the connectivity that separates the millennial versus baby boomer mindsets. As millennials, we are so used to the hyper-connected nature of the world today that we have no hesitation in seeking instant feedback regarding our ideas and decisions. Compared with our mentors, my generation is much more likely to reach out and consult a colleague. It is this collaboration that I think really defines our practices today. We hear, and we want to be heard! 

Jacqueline Beltz, BMedSci, MBBS(Hons), FRANZCO, is a cataract and corneal surgeon at Eye Surgery Associates in East Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Beltz may be reached at jacquelinebeltz@mac.com.

Niraj Desai, MD

Oddly enough, I find the millennial and baby boomer generations to be quite similar in the clinical setting, which is ironic given their dissimilarities in age, wealth, and outlook as it pertains to other aspects of life.

It is well known that the boomers were the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation up to that time. As they have gotten older, their outlook on their health has followed suit. In addition, their delayed retirements—owing to in part to the financial crisis and in part to their better health—enables baby boomers to continue these active lifestyles well into their 70s. As such, they are aggressive in searching for solutions to their visual troubles; I am often surprised by how attuned they are to their visual needs. They are my most common patient profile for cataract surgery, and their level of insight into the different IOL technologies is outstanding. Overall, they are informed, well networked in their community, and demanding of excellent outcomes.

The millennials, or Gen Y-ers, are not a regular feature in our surgical ophthalmology practice, but when I have seen these patients, there are some trends that I have come to find. First, often their appointments are booked not via phone call or referral, but with online appointment services such as ZocDoc. Second, they are commonly glued to their phones or tablets in the waiting room, often researching their issue on websites like WebMD. Moreover, during the consultation, they are direct, eager for more information, and not shy to politely challenge the doctor, should they have any doubts. If they do not have a “quick” response to their treatment, the millennials are the first ones to come back and see you. This is not dissimilar from the boomers.

The difference between these generations appears to be in how they get their information and how they share their views. Whereas the boomers generally rely on word of mouth and a close network of peers, I find that Yelp, ZocDoc, Healthgrades, and similar resources compose the information network for millennials. Similarly, the millennials are quick to share both positive and negative experiences on the same platforms, whereas the boomers, again, sound off to their peers.

Niraj Desai, MD, practices at Milan Eye Center in Atlanta. Dr. Desai may be reached at nirajdesaimd@gmail.com.

Sumitra S. Khandelwal, MD

I had experience with the difference between millennial and baby boomer patients during my residency and fellowship, but I truly appreciate the generation gap in my practice among my colleagues! Coming on board, my new ideas have been met with enthusiasm, excitement, and a little bit of old-fashioned skepticism. My suggestions to utilize patient information on the practice website and on our patient portal have been well received; however, a few colleagues have mentioned that, “Nothing beats a good sheet of paper.” This is very true for some patients, but I personally just lose sheets of paper, whereas an email or website information is easier to access. Most of my patients would like the name of their diagnosis and possible treatment and then go off on their own to research, accidentally leaving our lovely pamphlets in the waiting room. The key is to have both options available so that patients can decide which medium they like best.

These same colleagues have also said, “A phone call is the only good way to communicate around here with other docs.” It certainly is a great way to start, but most of the younger referring physicians appreciate the ability to communicate quicker. We will text or send emails regarding patient updates or to schedule an urgent patient, for example. I’ve been surprised that even older referring doctors may prefer a quick email or text as well. In regard to patient care, my tech and I both prefer patients to email or use the portal to contact us rather than play phone tag, as we are constantly in a difference place each day. It’s important, though, that as we move forward we keep in mind ways of documenting these conversations in the patient’s EMR or chart, as they are part of patient care. In addition, making sure that patient privacy is protected and that all emails are secure is a must.

I think having both ways to practice works well. I understand the younger generation better and can make suggestions to improve our website and media materials. Meanwhile, my baby boomer colleagues remind me that not everyone is going to sign up for our patient portal or acknowledge the iPads and computers in the waiting room! We treat a range of generations, so having multiple ways to communicate with patients and colleagues is important.

Sumitra S. Khandelwal, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Baylor College of Medicine, Cullen Eye Institute. Dr. Khandelwal may be reached at Sumitra.Khandelwal@bcm.edu.

Martin Krupa, MD; & Natalie Afshari, MD, FACS

Technological advancements in communication have had a profound impact on how millennial patients expect to interact with their health care provider’s office. Scheduling appointments online, obtaining records electronically, and receiving health information through smartphone applications are examples of such advancements and are common tasks that millennial patients are very comfortable with and generally prefer. In contrast, baby boomer patients still greatly value phone and in-person interactions with office staff, which is due not only to their relative lack of familiarity with new communication technologies but also to their being accustomed to human interactions when dealing with life’s important issues.

Physicians in general have been slow to adopt new communication technologies. Most practices offer only over-the-phone and in-person scheduling, and even fewer have enabled their patients to have access to their records online. In other industries, the implementation of new communication technologies is a major selling point to young consumers. In finance, for example, millennials expect to be able to manage their entire accounts online or through their phones.

As technological progress continues, it is important that health care professionals use these new communication technologies to reach out to today’s patients. In the end, however, it is still personal contact with the staff that will shape the patient’s final impression of the physician’s office—for at least another few decades.

Martin Krupa, MD, is a resident physician at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco and a former research associate at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Krupa may be reached at mkrupa@ucsd.edu.

Natalie Afshari, MD, FACS, is a Professor of Ophthalmology and the Chief of Cornea & Refractive Surgery at Shiley Eye Center, University of California, San Diego. Dr. Afshari may be reached at DrAfshari@ucsd.edu.

Robert F. Melendez, MD, MBA

As an ophthalmologist who cares primarily for baby boomers and as Chair of the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Young Ophthalmologist Committee, I get to work closely with both generations. Below are my observations (generalizations) about the baby boomer versus millennial mindset.

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, read the newspaper every day. They tend to be more relaxed than their previous generation (for example, they tend to dress a bit more casually than my older patients, who dress up to when they come to see me). In contrast, millennials “read” their cell phones every day. They tend to dress more casually than earlier generations and generally want to work less and play harder.

Millennials may think that the older baby boomer generation is slow to adopt technology, but, whether this is true or not, seek the opportunity to teach others in your practice. Be the resource in this area. On the other hand, when the baby boomers are trying to teach you something new, be teachable and open to performing tasks in a new manner. The baby boomers have a wealth of knowledge, whereas the millennials have access to a wealth of knowledge via their technological gadgets (smartphones, tablets, etc).

As previously stated, generalizations can be made about each group: Baby boomers are slow to adopt new technologies, and millennials do not work as hard as their elders. I suggest breaking these stereotypes, and, if interviewing for a job, that you speak to these concerns. Outlining expectations up front in the interview will help to reduce any tension if disputes arise about commitment to the practice.

As a generation, millennials are heavily reliant on technology, not because they were born to crave it, but because of their great exposure to it. Millennials were born with iPods in their hands (slightly joking). They communicate very differently, too. Baby boomers will pick up the phone to call someone, whereas millennials will pick up the phone to text someone. Baby boomers primarily use Facebook, while millennials often prefer Instagram.

In general, when communicating about a sensitive issue, pick up the phone or meet in person. Texting and emailing can oftentimes create more problems because the content can be misinterpreted. When in doubt, pick up the phone and make a call.

Learning about others’ differences will help you become a better team player. Identifying how others prefer to receive and send information will improve your communication with your partners, associates, and staff.

Robert F. Melendez, MD, MBA, is a Comprehensive Ophthalmologist and Partner at Eye Associates of New Mexico and an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Surgery/Division of Ophthalmology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Dr. Melendez may be reached at rfmelendez@gmail.com.

Sherman W. Reeves, MD, MPH

As the baby boomers and millennials represent the two largest demographic groups alive today, it’s important for us as physicians to try and understand what makes them tick. Although it’s always hard to make blanket generalizations about enormous numbers of people, I think the main difference between the mindsets of the two groups comes down to a simple difference in age.

Currently aged 32 years or younger, the 82 million millennials are more focused on young adult issues, such as obtaining an education, starting and promoting fledgling careers, becoming financially independent, finding mates, and nurturing young families. They have their hands full with life right now and are not interested in devoting a lot of time—or money—to the health care system. In addition to these stage-of-life issues, the millennials have never known a world without instantaneous information from the Internet or almost-instantaneous cup of custom-brewed coffee. As such, they tend to want efficient, cost-effective, high-quality encounters with their doctors that don’t require hours of sitting in a waiting room.

With an age range today of 50 to 71 years, the boomers, 77 million strong, are mostly past the “three-ring circus days” of the young adult world that the millennials live in. Their careers are either on autopilot or winding down, or they may have reached the long-awaited goal of retirement. They paid their dues in the working world and now have more time to devote to other interests outside of work and family. They are also typically more established financially and may have become more accustomed to some of the nicer things in life. Baby boomers typically want things done right and are willing to devote time and resources to make that happen. Given these facts, when they interact with their doctor, they tend to value quality care and quality face time over speed, and they are more likely to remain loyal to a doctor they’ve built a trusting relationship with.

Sherman W. Reeves, MD, MPH, practices at Minnesota Eye Consultants in Minneapolis. Dr. Reeves may be reached at (763) 746-7215; swreeves@mneye.com.