Home 2024 Sleep Dentistry Issue Breaking the Generational Code Part II: Intel Needed to Successfully Engage with a Multi-Generational Patient Base

Breaking the Generational Code Part II: Intel Needed to Successfully Engage with a Multi-Generational Patient Base

by Christi Bintliff

In my April article, I addressed how we can bridge the gap in a multigenerational team:  Breaking the Generational Code:  Intel Needed to Successfully Lead a Multi-Generational Workforce – The Profitable Dentist

To be successful we must embrace our team’s personalities and strengths as well as the multigenerational aspect. Their unique perspectives and contributions coupled with their life and career experiences are what make your practice successful.

Yet, our patient base also has a similar multigenerational maquillage. Therefore, we must be prepared for generational expectations, norms, as well as communication preferences to provide the best possible patient experience every time. (1)

Traditionalists aka The Silent Generation:   This generation is a significant part of your long-term patient base, but most likely their numbers are in decline.

Most likely they started when the practice first opened and have remained loyal patients. They have trusted your judgment as your practice shifted through the continual stream of changes and challenges that come with each decade.

Their oral health is greatly impacted by their age, medical conditions, and medications. While some remain independent, others may be living with a caregiver, in assisted living or nursing homes where their oral care may have taken a back seat to other health-related issues.

This generation focuses on traditional healthcare advice and recommendations. They value simplicity and a straightforward approach from their dentist. (2)

Few are technology savvy or even have an interest in technology. They are often resistant to social media, online portals, texts, and emails. For this generation, connection and communication in written and verbal form are paramount. They appreciate one-to-one conversations valuing the time that a dentist or team member takes to call them.

While a caregiver often accompanies them, they are likely still involved in decisions related to their oral health. Due to their age, they could suddenly present with various dental problems. They may also show signs of cognitive and health decline. All of which are very overwhelming for them. They are not conversant in our dental lingo nor are the caregivers. Dentists must consider this and present treatment recommendations in simple relatable terms. Dentists should discuss treatment options in simple relatable terms and provide options planned in phases (when applicable) to minimize their anxiety. They are cost-conscious and therefore seek affordability. Senior discounts and membership plans are greatly appreciated by this generation.

We must meet them where they are and provide the most viable options for this phase of their life. And mostly giving them the respect, kindness, and compassion that they deserve. After all, they remained a key component in building your practice.

Baby Boomers:  Boomers comprise the second largest generation in the US after Millennials. (3) They want the best healthcare available which includes dentistry. Over time they have seen and grown to appreciate the advancement in dentistry and dental technology. They value high quality, high tech, and an emphasis on creating a memorable patient experience.

They are undergoing a lot of life changes. They are living longer and continue to be active. Many are still crushing it in their career, while others are actively enjoying the retirement phase and even re-emerging into the dating scene.

What does this mean? They are more socially active!

They are more conscious about their smile and oral health. They realize that their teeth are beginning to show normal wear and staining indicative of their age. They are more committed to preserving their natural teeth through restorative dentistry. In addition, they are also interested in cosmetic procedures such as teeth whitening and even Invisalign to improve their smile.

A dentist should address concerns about tooth decay, gum disease, and cosmetic considerations of sustaining their quality of life and preserving their smile. (4)

Just like Traditionalists, Boomers tend to have a long relationship with their dentist. They visit their dentist more often than their physician. They rely on their dentist to speak openly about any oral concerns that may be a precursor to serious medical conditions. They view their smile as an investment in themselves, their overall health, and their quality of life.

They will continue to be patient if the practice continues to provide the highest quality of care and patient experience. New patients in this generational category tend to schedule with a practice based on word-of-mouth referrals and/or online reviews. (5)  They value practices with a high reputation, a knowledgeable and personable team of professionals, and one that gives back to the community in which they live and serve. (6)

Boomers follow and rely on their dentist’s advice and care more than any later generations. They respond well to chairside conversations that cover education, treatment options, costs, and financial options. They are visual and firsthand learners thus it is important to provide materials and videos so that they are engaged in their treatment options. Boomers appreciate texts and emails but find tremendous value in follow-up calls from their dentist or team member.

For some Boomers, money may not be a barrier to proceeding with treatment while others will need to be aware of your financial options. Discounts and membership plans are of interest to this generation as well.

Gen X:  Gen Xers are educated and often financially diversified. They research and weigh information gathered from multiple sources before selecting a dental practice. They are not as eager to accept treatment as the previous generations until they have time to do their research. I am a Gen Xer; I don’t schedule treatment until I have researched the pros and cons and have had time to address any concerns with insurance reimbursement and out-of-pocket costs.

Follow-ups are a fantastic way to revisit their treatment needs but make sure that you or your team has time to discuss their concerns. This also solidifies the trust-based and caring relationship that you developed with them. I am Gen X. I am remarkably busy with my career and consulting business. I have the best intentions of calling to schedule, but other things take priority. I appreciate that follow-up call and email reaching out to me a few weeks after my initial visit. I also appreciate the post-op calls and emails that come after having a procedure. It signals that I am a valued patient in your patient not just a number.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not only do they make their own healthcare decisions and appointments they are also managing the healthcare needs of other family members. They are active in their careers and with their family all the while striving to achieve work-life balance. They tend to be more responsive to quick text messages and even faster using online appointment scheduling, paying a bill, or making a deposit for upcoming procedures. (7)

They desire appointment flexibility. They prefer early morning or late afternoon appointments. They love time chitchatting with their dentist but be mindful of time. They don’t have time to waste in your practice so dental teams must be cognizant of time management with this generation. They want enough time to have their questions and concerns about treatment recommendations, costs, and financial options addressed. (8)  Most gravitate to bullet-style conversations that contain the most pertinent information related to their treatment. A common request that I see from the generation is the use of short videos in treatment presentations as well as having written or visual educational tools accessible in their patient portals.

Ongoing engagement with Gen Xers will comprise social platforms, e-blasts as well as traditional methods of communication. They still appreciate and value a call and even face time from their dental teams about unscheduled treatment and missed appointments. (9) This plays a huge part in a successful reactivation process.

Lastly, they have an initiative-taking versus reactive approach to dental care. They want to proceed with treatment before it becomes a major cost. We need to keep all these things in mind with this part of our patient base.

Millennials aka Gen Y:   This generation is the largest living adult generation in the U.S., millennials generally have been healthy and less insured than earlier cohorts. They place a high precedence on convenience. (10)

They look for care close to where they live or work, need to know wait times, want to be able to message or face-time their dental provider a/o to chat with them on social media, have access to online portals, to find office hours, read online reviews,  and to be aware of other convenience options that will  best meet the needs of their fast-paced lifestyles.

Millennials tend to make decisions based on emotional experiences. If they have even one negative experience it can cause them to switch dentists. (11)  

They will be more engaged on social platforms that highlight personal aspects of the dentist, and team, their involvement in local charities, and their support of local and small businesses.

I was shocked to learn that this generation has the worst oral health and hygiene practices of all generations. In further research, I discovered that one-third of millennials admit to only brushing once per day, and the average millennial has gone over two days or more without brushing at all. In addition, they often have a much worse diet than previous generations, regularly indulging in fast food, sweets, sodas, and energy drinks mirroring their fast-paced lifestyle.

They rarely hit the daily recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake, and often eat replacements with fake sugars and other problematically synthetic foods. They seldom take vitamins or supplements, so they have no means of counterbalancing the effects on the body and oral health. (13)

It further elaborated that they avoid going to the dentist unless it is problem-focused and urgent need. The American Dental Association surveyed millennials, and two of the most common reasons stated for staying away from the dentist were cost and inconvenient time and location. (14) Though they have unkempt oral hygiene, millennials agree that their teeth and smiles affect their appearance and social acceptance.

Unlike baby boomers, millennials are also less likely to have a personal relationship with one single provider but rather prefer to shop around for the most cost-effective and convenient location.

The simple matter is millennials want an efficient, hassle-free experience from start to finish. Creating and obtaining convenient appointments, shorter wait times on arrival, education and treatment presentations that interactive, and affordable treatment are all attributes they desire.

Dental providers must continue to take a closer look at these generations because the chances are we will be treating more of them as they age, and as dental problems arise. The more we know about this generation the better equipped will be to provide care in a manner that works for their lifestyle.

GenZ:  Nearly one-third, or 31%, of Gen Z, are living with their parents because they can’t afford to buy or rent their own space. (15)

Gen Zer’s report that their decisions are significantly influenced by social media. Forty-five percent of Gen Z referenced TikTok and Instagram as the top platforms influencing their decisions, followed by YouTube (38%), Facebook (24%), Snapchat (17%), Twitter (14%) and Reddit (7%). (16)  This includes your dental practice. They want to relate to a dentist and team members; therefore, your social channels should highlight a personal context versus the dental jargon that we often get focused on.

I found it interesting that 73% of Gen Z agree that having good oral health leads to a healthier lifestyle, versus the average of Millennials, Gen X and Boomers 90%. (17)

They prioritize their physical and mental well-being. They actively engage in regular exercise and proper nutrition. (18) They are apt to brush and floss after each meal and focus on maintaining routine dental visits. All of this leads to optimal oral health which minimizes their need for restorative dentistry.

They dislike labels, are inclusive, and expect communication to be a two-way street. Practices that support genuine diversity and inclusivity initiatives will appeal to this generation the most. Just like Millennials, they value practices that are ego-friendly, give back to local businesses, and first responders, and that partner with local charities, and other worthy causes in their community. Photos of your involvement should be displayed on your website and social channels.

Keep in mind that Gen Z is the youngest generation with adult members. They are likely to be covered by their parents’ dental insurance and often defer dental care decisions and financial obligations to their parents. (19) For many, this is the first time they’ve been responsible for and trying to navigate their healthcare.

Generation Z was the first generation to be born fully immersed in technology and have been part of their lives since they were born. Mobile app reminders, texts, and email are the best ways to reach them, though direct mail can be used as a last resort of communication. They need processes to be a quick and efficient use of their time.  Online portals are a perfect option for them. An emphasis on education is crucial for this generation. We must teach them about the importance of oral health, and nutrition, as well as the importance of an initiative-taking versus reactive approach to treatment in terms of cost and time. After each visit consider uploading relevant information such as treatment plans, consent forms, financial options, and oral health and nutrition goals into their online patient portal for their review. (20)

We must continue to have situational awareness of the generations in our patient base. We must be willing to adjust our communication and marketing styles to deliver the same message but in a different format and tone that will resonate with each generation.

By modifying, personalizing, and customizing your approach to chairside communication, external and internal marketing, and other forms of engagement you will continue to bond with your existing patient base while also attracting new patients.

Cited Information: 

  1. https://www.aha.org/aha-center-health-innovation-market-scan/2023-01-10-how-personalize-care-across-four-generations-patients
  2. https://etactics.com/blog/generations-in-healthcare
  3. https://www.alterahealth.com/2024/02/baby-boomers-and-healthcare/#:~:text=A%20report%20from%20the%20American,care%2C%20more%20than%20younger%20generations.
  4. https://www.arborviewdentalgroup.com/restorative-dentistry-for-aging-baby-boomers-a-growing-need/
  5. https://etactics.com/blog/generations-in-healthcare
  6. https://www.alterahealth.com/2024/02/baby-boomers-and-healthcare/#:~:text=A%20report%20from%20the%20American,care%2C%20more%20than%20younger%20generations
  7. https://etactics.com/blog/generations-in-healthcare
  8. https://www.nextech.com/blog/what-your-practice-needs-to-know-about-gen-x-and-aesthetics
  9. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/generation-x-connecting-health-cares-next-big-cosimano-apr-mba/
  10. https://www.nextech.com/blog/what-your-practice-needs-to-know-about-gen-x-and-aesthetics
  11. https://www.aha.org/aha-center-health-innovation-market-scan/2023-01-10-how-personalize-care-across-four-generations-patients
  12. https://etactics.com/blog/generations-in-healthcare
  13. https://www.dentistryiq.com/personal-wellness/article/14276462/why-millennials-may-have-worse-teeth-than-their-parents
  14. https://www.todaysrdh.com/do-millennials-truly-have-worse-oral-health-than-their-parents/#:~:text=Despite%20avoiding%20the%20dentist%20and,negative%20impact%20on%20personal%20life.
  15. https://www.cnbc.com/2024/01/11/high-housing-costs-have-kept-31percent-of-gen-z-adults-living-at-home.html
  16. https://www.retaildive.com/news/generation-z-social-media-influence-shopping-behavior-purchases-tiktok-instagram/652576/#:~:text=Forty-five%20percent%20of%20Gen,%25)%20and%20Reddit%20(7%25)
  17. https://www.oralhealthgroup.com/news/new-study-reveals-gen-z-more-likely-to-seek-alternative-oral-care-products-1003973442/
  18. https://www.dentaleconomics.com/practice/patient-communication-and-patient-financing/article/14296115/partnering-with-gen-z-patients-to-improve-their-oral-and-overall-health
  19. https://www.aha.org/aha-center-health-innovation-market-scan/2023-01-10-how-personalize-care-across-four-generations-patients
  20. https://www.speareducation.com/spear-review/2023/04/how-dentists-can-support-gen-z-oral-care

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