Health care providers trying to attract and retain adult patients under 50 are in for a shock. When it comes to loyalty to a particular doctor or hospital, Gen Xers and Yers just don't have any.

As I reported in this column a couple of weeks ago, baby boomers and their elders, the so-called Silent Generation, tend to stick with their providers through thick and thin while people between 18 and 50 don't hesitate to switch if they are unhappy about any aspect of a single visit. That could entail anything from annoyance with clerical staff to having to wait five minutes beyond a designated appointment time. Clinical care may be important, but customer service is also a really big deal to these patients.

Understanding the different expectations of four distinct generations and then finding the best way to market to them is a challenge, says Linda McCracken, vice president of the health and science division of Thomson Reuters. One big piece of the puzzle is finding the right medium to reach different segments of your target population.

Thomson Reuters researchers looked into which types of media people in various age groups respond to most readily. As reported in the white paper Matching the Market: Using Generational Segments to Attract and Retain Consumers, they found, among other things:

  • Older adults are more apt to read and respond to flyers and other forms of direct mail than younger adults.
  • The Silent Generation responds positively to TV ads, while Gen Xers respond more favorably to messaging in magazines and provider offices.
  • Boomers are aware of traditional media—such as print, radio and television—but are only moderately responsive to health care messaging.

Gen Xers and Millennials are "digital natives" who have grown up using a variety of technologies and regularly consume media channels simultaneously, for example, watching television while scanning the Internet. "For digital natives, information gathering is more like 'monitoring,' or paying partial attention, and can result in extremely fragmented message reception."

Whatever the medium, "messaging about advanced technology and compassionate care resonates with all population segments," Thomson Reuters reports.

In the end, the most effective marketing tool remains the experience patients have while seeking care and how they describe that experience to others.