Talking 'Bout Doc Generations

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, November 12, 2008

There are three distinctly different generations (and soon to be a fourth) practicing medicine today. And marketers want to know how to best reach out to all of them when crafting internal campaigns and when marketing to physicians to increase satisfaction and referrals. It's tempting—especially in tough economic times—to try a one-size-fits-all approach. But as the results of a recent national study suggest, that's just not going to cut it.

Like any other audience, if you want to successfully market to physicians from the greatest generation (ages 63-83), boomers (ages 44-62), and generation x (ages 28-43), you've got to create a message that resonates with their unique needs and viewpoints.

Speaking at the Healthcare Strategy Institute's recent hospital and physician relations summit, David Rowlee, vice president of research at Morehead Associates in Charlotte, NC, said members of each generation have the following in common:

  • Each generation reacts to the generation before them in a negative way.
  • Each generation is skeptical about the generations that follow them.
  • Each generation thinks they are the best generation—the benchmark against which all other generations should be measured.

Even their commonalities highlight their differences. That's further evidenced in the results of Morehead's most recent physician engagement survey. The survey produced a lot of data. But a peek at some of the top-line results should get you started thinking about how you can embrace these very different groups.

Get engaged
In the 2008 survey of physicians, nationwide engagement, on average, came in at 4.02 on a five point scale. The most loyal physicians are older docs, at 4.27. Baby boomers follow at 4.06. And generation x is lagging behind at an average of 3.91. (In fact, generation x physicians are significantly less satisfied across every measure, Rowlee said.)

As they've done in previous years, Morehead asked physicians to name the key drivers of engagement and satisfaction. Nationwide, physicians of all ages said the following were most important:

  • The hospital cares about its patients.
  • The hospital makes use of new technology and clinical practices.
  • The physician has confidence in the administration's leadership.

But when broken down by age group, the generations diverge again.

The following are the key drivers for the oldest group of docs:

  • The overall performance of the hospital administration.
  • The physician's confidence in the hospital administration's leadership.
  • The physicians are treated with respect.

The following are the key drivers for the boomers:

  • Openness of the hospital administration.
  • Responsiveness of the hospital administration.
  • Adequate input into decisions that impact medical practice.

The following are the key drivers for generation x:

  • The hospital makes use of new technology and clinical practices.
  • The physician has access to tools and resources needed to care for patients.
  • Timely results from laboratory and radiology services.

Talk it over
Despite their differences, physicians of all ages have one thing in common. And lucky for you, it's one of the marketer's specialties: communication.

What if differentiating your organization was as simple as talking about it? Young physicians won't know what you're doing to report lab results faster unless you tell them about it. Older physicians won't know that administrators want their input unless you seek it out.

So how do you make everyone happy? Well, I don't know if you can make everyone happy, but there are a few tactics you should consider.

Clearly, older physicians are concerned not only with the health of their patients, but also with the health of the hospital and the strength of its leadership. Treat them with respect and give them input. Reach these physicians by giving them access to senior leaders, either one-on-one during visits to physicians in their offices or in a group social setting. Consult them before making big decisions instead of informing them after the decisions are already made.

Meanwhile, younger physicians don't want easy access to administrators; they want you to make it easier for them to practice medicine. If you can find ways to make their life easier, it will be easier for them to choose your hospital when it comes time to refer a patient. You have to work extra hard to earn their trust. But it can be done. Yes, a lot of them say now that they don't know if they'll be working for the same organization five years from now. On the bright side, it means you have time to earn their loyalty.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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