Baby Boomers Aren’t Patients, They’re Customers

Baby Boomers Aren’t Patients, They’re Customers

Baby Boomers have changed every market they’ve touched and forced entire industries to improve, step up and otherwise deliver a better product or service. Starting with changes to hospital maternity wards and public schools as their numbers filled both bassinets and classrooms, these institutions grew in number and changed in style to accommodate Boomers’ numbers. Baby Boomers later forced changes to civil rights and brought women and minorities into the workforce – things unheard of during their parents’ generation. These changes did not come easily, but by sheer number and force of will, Boomers fundamentally changed how this country works.

This generation not only transformed music, fashion, and culture, but just as importantly, changed how these things were discussed, depicted, and advertised. The instant gratification that came with television, drive-in restaurants, and fast food were the result of this demanding group that came of age with dollars to spend in an era of prosperity.

As history has shown, Boomers understand the power of protesting and were inspired by a generation of leaders like Robert F. Kennedy who said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” With such experiences, Boomers have had both the numbers and dollars to demand high levels of customer service.

Today, Baby Boomers are becoming Medicare-eligible at a rate of 10,000 per day and are bringing high expectations of customer service with them. Large health insurers such as Cigna, WellPoint, Humana, and United are acquiring Medicare Advantage plans across the country, and enrollment in Medicare Advantage programs is skyrocketing. One in four current Medicare recipients is enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, the majority of which are catering to Boomers by offering significantly smaller deductibles and a range of benefits such as hearing, vision, and other services than those provided by traditional Medicare coverage.

At the same time, out-of- pocket medical expenses, deductibles, co-insurance, and other healthcare costs are increasing across the board for Medicare and non-Medicare patients alike. A 2009 study commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation stated that out-of- pocket health care costs could increase more than 35 percent in every state by 2019. This means that the healthcare industry is now facing the largest population group in US history with the greatest amount of healthcare purchasing power ever seen in healthcare. Just like all other industries in the path of this generation, the delivery of healthcare is going to change dramatically.

As the volume of clinical care and cost rises along with aging Boomers, so rises the era of the Patient-as-Customer. Boomers are watching their parents endure long waits at the doctor’s office, pages of tedious and often repetitive medical forms, and only minutes of actual face time with their physician or nurse. This experience is then capped off with an expensive and confusing patient bill demanding payment in full. AsBoomers begin to fill these same waiting rooms and complete the same inane forms, Boomers – unlike their more patient parents – will leave those healthcare providers that don’t offer the service they expect for a cost they must bear.

A physician or hospital may provide the highest level of clinical care with the finest of outcomes, but that is only a fraction of what the patient experiences in your office or facility. Successful practices and facilities will deploy new models that accommodate the Boomer as the patient-customer. Successful physicians and hospitals will focus intently on the complete patient experience from the moment the Boomer contacts the provider to schedule an appointment to the presentation of the final bill. Customer service in healthcare also includes easy parking, minimal wait-times (on site or on the phone), a friendly and attentive front office staff, and a patient bill that actually makes sense. Healthcare providers today who neglect the patient experience will watch their Boomer-patients walk out the door if they believe your office does not respect their status as your customer.

In the age of Consumer Reports and the Internet, Boomers are used to readily available information for making consumer choices, and if meaningful, consumer-oriented information on your practice or facility is hard to find, understand, or use, Boomers will move on to a physician or facility that provides it in a manner that Boomers want: online and/or via social media. Representing one-third of all online and social media users, Boomers’ use of social networking has nearly doubled in the last year with over half of them using Facebook. Providers that communicate with Boomers in meaningful and rewarding ways will succeed where others don’t.

Because Boomers are responsible for more of their healthcare spending than ever before, providers who focus on the patient experience and effectively deliver information will find loyalty among Boomers. Quality is defined by meeting or exceeding expectations, and as the business of healthcare continues to evolve, those physicians and facilities that treat Boomers as partners, consumers, and ultimately as valued customers will exceed Boomers’ expectations. Boomers believe they are your customers. You should too.

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