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Generational divides influence doctor-patient relationships, patient engagement, study says

Millennials are more open, accepting of doctors authority; GenXers mistrustful and somewhat disengaged; Baby boomers the least healthy, study says.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

From millennials to baby boomers, attitudes about healthcare seem to hinge on what generation you claim as your own, according to a new Vitals Index study. The age-specific perspectives range from the doctor-patient relationship to the overall healthcare system.

Millennials are generally regarded as healthy, utilizing less medical services than other generations and with only 35 percent engaging a primary care provider. They also steer towards more alternative venues for care, with one in four using facilities like urgent care centers, the study said.

Their alleged optimism and idealism pervades their relationships with medical professionals, showing a high level of trust in their doctors and the healthcare system. They are also the most likely to follow their doctor's advice, and are least likely to question their physician's authority or integrity. Finally, they are more given to having open relationships with their doctors, thanks to their habits on social media and proclivity for self-expression.

[Also: Providers focusing more on attracting, retaining millennial consumers]

Labeled Medical Misanthropes by the study, those from Generation X, born between 1961 and 1981, are in their late 30s and 40s, and have a "well-documented" skeptical nature that substantially influences their attitudes about healthcare. They are most likely to believe that physicians and facilities care more about money than about patient well-being.

Sometimes characterized as distrustful of authority, GenXers are more likely to doubt whether physicians know what they are doing, or believe that doctors will "pretend to know" something when they actually aren't sure. Many feel less comfortable opening up to their physicians, and only 56 percent have a primary care doctor.Finally, one in four say they've "lost trust" in a doctor or medical facility in the last two years – more than any other generation, the study said.

[Also: Percentage of medical bills paid by check decline; stark generational differences dominate]

Baby boomers are one of the unhealthiest generations, with one Journal of American Medical Association, JAMA, study showing they have higher rates of chronic disease, more disability and lower self-rated health than members of the previous generation at the same age. Therefore, it's no surprise that 83 percent of them, now in their late 60s and 50s, have a primary doctor.

Boomers also prefer a team approach, including how they relate to their doctors. Many of them are comfortable having open, honest communications with their physician,  value a doctor who decides treatment options with them, and are the most likely to rely on a doctor recommendation from friends or family, and don't show the mistrust for doctors that GenXers seem to exhibit.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn

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