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Are You Missing the Mark with Your Boomer Engagement Efforts?

boomer engagement efforts

Five years ago, the first of the Baby Boomers began turning 65. Thus began a trend that is fueling growth in the number of older Americans — and fears that the U.S. healthcare system lacks the resources needed to manage this aging generation. Baby Boomers are living longer, but not necessarily healthier, lives. In its 38th annual report on health in America, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that almost 20 percent of Boomers have diabetes, 40 percent are obese and more than 50 percent suffer from hypertension. As a result, hospitals and other healthcare providers have ramped up efforts to engage Baby Boomers with mixed results.

The problem? Too many organizations appeal to Baby Boomers as if they are all cut from the same cloth. Despite shared characteristics — demographic or diagnostic — one-size-fits-all messaging does not resonate equally with all Boomer healthcare consumers. Here’s what you need to understand in order to develop more effective patient engagement campaigns.

It isn’t easy to define Boomers.

Following World War II, the baby boom began. In less than two decades, so many babies were born that Boomers became the largest generation ever, peaking at 78.8 million in 1999 thanks to the additional influx of foreign-born Boomers. Not surprisingly, among a cohort so vast, the differences between a Boomer born in 1964 and one born in 1946 can be significant. Some Boomers are just seeing their youngest children through college. Others are veteran grandparents. Many still work full time while others enjoy full-time retirement, and millions are somewhere in between, starting up “second careers” to stay busy or to supplement their retirement income. 

Extensive research conducted by my team in my previous career at P&G found many among the youngest Boomers exhibiting Gen X attitudes and the oldest Boomers mirroring the Greatest/Silent Generation.  As AARP noted in a blog post, “When you consider the experiences, challenges, and successes that come with each new stage in life, it becomes clear that not every 50+ adult is alike.”

What’s more, many Boomers do not fit the picture that many experts paint. Take adoption of digital technologies, for example. Boomers may not be digital natives, but they didn’t miss the digital revolution. In fact, they started it. From playing Pong in the 70s to driving sales of home computers skyward as they began raising families, younger Boomers born between 1956 and 1964 adapted to, and adopted, technology quickly.

These days, Pew Research reports that 65 percent of Internet users in their 50s regularly are active on social media via Facebook and 54 percent of individuals ages 50 to 64 own smartphones. While less active online, Boomers born from 1946 to 1955 still rely on mobile technologies to stay connected. In fact, Pew Research findings indicate significant growth in the use of social media among older adults, with 35 percent using social media, compared with just 2 percent a decade ago.  The 2015 c2b Consumer Diagnostic, a national study on healthcare consumer attitudes and behaviors, found that Baby Boomers are the generation most likely to visit health information websites (e.g., WebMD). 

Still, Boomers tend to be less reliant on digital technologies and may need more convincing than their younger cohorts to adopt digital health management tools.

The wealth often associated with the Baby Boom generation is also overstated. One reason stems from the fact that many Boomers share a second moniker — the Sandwich Generation. Still raising their own families, these individuals also find themselves increasingly adopting caretaking roles for their own aging parents.

In a November article on myths about Baby Boomers, the Washington Post cited a 2013 AARP study that 1 in 5 workers, primarily those in the Boomer generation, had taken time off or left a job to provide full-time care for a parent or another aging family member in the past five years. The price tag for those in the Sandwich generation? According to a MetLife estimate, the loss to income averaged nearly $304,000 per caregiver when you factor in pension and Social Security benefits.

Clearly, the impact of their dual roles and responsibilities creates financial as well as physical and emotional pressures that healthcare providers need to consider, not only to improve engagement with Baby Boomers themselves, but to drive better health outcomes those receiving care from their Boomer children.

Healthcare providers can do more to improve patient engagement efforts.

Patient engagement plays an important role in healthcare today, but to achieve cost savings, enhance patient care and support population health efforts, healthcare providers need to develop health literacy and patient engagement initiatives that do a better job of helping patients own their own healthcare.  How can hospitals and other healthcare providers get there?

  • Focus on Quality Not Quantity
    More isn’t always better, despite what advertisers would like us to believe. Rather than a barrage of messages to every Boomer in an attempt to drive behavior changes, finding the right balance of messaging, using the right message, is a key to effective engagement. c2b solutions has taken to heart feedback from its clients that patients are experiencing “message fatigue,” as multiple sources (e.g., hospitals, insurers, care management organizations, pharma companies, etc.) are bombarding patients with information, some of which may be conflicting.  Thus, a portion of 2015 c2b Consumer Diagnostic was dedicated to determining the optimal combination of source, vehicle and frequency for many healthcare topics.

Healthcare providers need to think about how they can make it easier for patients to achieve the desired results. The answer might not rest solely with engagement.

Douglas Hough, an associate scientist and professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, likens it to improvements in car travel safety. The dangers have decreased because of physical improvements — to roads and cars — not because drivers are more engaged. Likewise, hospitals need to look at the tools patients already use regularly and find ways to incorporate those tools into the engagement equation.

  • Connect on a Personal Level
    According to engagedIN CEO Kyra Bobinet, who is also a physician and consulting faculty member for the Stanford School of Medicine, “Behavior always dominates technology.” She suggests that understanding the emotions and motivations of patients can help hospitals and other healthcare providers develop meaningful engagement tools and strategies. That’s where psychographic segmentation can help providers move from blanket communications about chronic health concerns among Boomers, to personalized approaches that engage patients not based on their age or diagnoses, but based on their attitudes and inspirations.

Personalization plays an important role in another program being piloted in Baltimore. To address a lack of engagement among patients with arthritis, providers use an engagement tool combined with a cost model to show “the positive impact treatment would likely have on patients’ future ability to drive, work and stay independent.” By making the reasons for engagement more personal, healthcare providers hope to drive buy-in from patients. The next phase of the pilot program will focus on continued adherence to treatment plans.

Keep in mind, though, that not all patients are motivated by promises of future benefit or deferred gains.  One psychographic segment, the Willful Endurers, is not future-oriented and behavior change depends upon how it will positively affect today.    

As the lead researcher and developer of the Patient Activation Measure (PAM) used by many healthcare organizations to assess a patient’s health literacy and confidence in managing his or her health, Judith Hibbard understands all too well why engagement and activation remain a critical component of healthcare reform. “Patients who are less activated are twice as likely to have a 30-day readmission,” she says.  And that doesn’t bode well for organizations striving to achieve the triple aim of healthcare reform: improving patient experiences and population health while reducing healthcare costs.

Given what’s at stake, and an aging Baby Boomer population that could easily overwhelm the U.S. healthcare system in the coming years, you might want to remember that old adage — don’t judge a book by its cover. Rather than using demographics alone to define target audiences, hospitals and healthcare providers need to look deeper and understand the unique characteristics of healthcare consumers that influence their attitudes about healthcare, and create patient engagement strategies that hit home at a more personal level.

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change


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