Younger Generations Driving Change in Doctor-Patient Relationship

9 Jan

The Millennial Generation – known for its disdain of hierarchical structures and preference for collegiality – is becoming a catalyst for changes in the doctor-patient relationship, as well.

So says Kimberly Petrovic, assistant professor of nursing at Southern, who also has 14 years of clinical experience in the nursing field. She has been a registered nurse in three states – Tennessee, Oregon and for the last 11 years, in Connecticut.

For those of you of a younger vintage, peppering your doctor or nurse with questions may seem like second nature. But to your parents or grandparents, such questioning was more the exception than the rule.

Millennials and Gen Xers are changing the dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship.

Millennials and Gen Xers are changing the dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship.

“Traditionally, most patients did not ask a lot of questions of their doctors, and rarely challenged a diagnosis or medical advice,” Petrovic says. “In general, we still see that with the older generations – the Baby Boomers and especially the pre-Baby Boomers (Traditionalists).
“But times are changing, and I’ve seen significant changes over the last 14 years. The Millennials (adults in their early 30s and younger) are more questioning than the older generations and seek more interpersonal collaborations with their health care providers – whether it be doctors, nurses or nurse practitioners. Gen Xers (those generally in their mid-30s to 50) also grew up questioning everything, so the combination is leading to a different dynamic in those relationships.”

Petrovic notes that she has seen more people – especially Millennials and Generation Xers (the generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials) – checking out their symptoms or diagnoses online, often before they talk with their health care provider.

“Some doctors and nurses fear that a little information can be a dangerous thing in the hands of those who are not medical experts,” she says. “And you do have to be careful not to put a lot of credence in questionable websites. But there are some very reputable websites that can be helpful for patients when understood in the right context.”

She points to: www.webmd.com and www.mayoclinic.org as two examples of valuable medical websites.

The key is to understand the context of what you are reading. For example, you may have a pain in your left arm. And a heart attack may be one of the possibilities, but it’s also a symptom of a sore muscle or tendon. If in doubt, checking with a medical professional is usually wise.

“I believe patients should play an active role in their health care,” Petrovic adds. “Medical experts should be respected for their knowledge and experience. But patients shouldn’t be discouraged from educating themselves, or discussing what they found with their doctors.”

Petrovic says she also is seeing somewhat of a change from the professional side, as well. As the younger generations become medical professionals themselves, there is a greater propensity for them to be more comfortable with a “circle dynamic,” rather than the traditional, semi-authoritarian approach.

“These are generalizations, of course, based on generations,” she says. “Certainly, there are many exceptions. Some older medical workers are very adaptable and willing to approach their patients in a more collegial manner. And some younger people in the medical field may be less tolerant. But as a whole, the generational differences that we see in society – at school, at work, at home – are gradually influencing the medical field, as well.”

Petrovic adds that these societal changes coincide with easier accessibility to one’s medical records in recent years. While a person’s medical records have always been available, the greater use of electronic records has made the process of checking one’s medical history easier for many patients.

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