Baby boomers believe in the value of prevention, but many of this generation are taking a reactive, and sometimes risky, approach when it comes to managing their health, as revealed by the first MDVIP Boomer Health Survey.

The national survey of 1,049 baby boomers, conducted by the independent market research firm Ipsos Public Affairs on behalf of MDVIP, shows that while 94% of boomers believe preventive care is an important part of staying healthy, 74% say they should be doing more to better manage their health. Half of boomers (46%) say they don’t exercise regularly, and more than a third say they don’t eat healthy (35%) or get sufficient sleep (37%, 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night).

More than 75 million baby boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—are now living in the United States. This aging population is expected to live longer than their parents’ generation, but with higher rates of chronic illness which can lead to diminished quality of life in their later years. MDVIP commissioned the research to better understand boomers’ perceptions and concerns related to their current health, and how primary care experiences are influencing their overall well-being.

Reactive Mindset: The Waiting Game

What would motivate boomers to get on a healthier track? Though 73% of those surveyed report suffering from a chronic health condition, almost half (43%) are playing the “waiting game,” saying it would take an unexpected, life-threatening diagnosis for them to invest more in staying healthy. Additionally, 14% say a friend or family member’s health scare would be an impetus for change. Other motivators are having an expert create a clear plan tailored to helping them achieve their health goals (28%), and having a strong support system of friends, family and mentors to encourage them (25%). About 17% claim nothing would motivate them, believing they have little control over their future health.

“The survey findings show that boomers have a greater health consciousness than previous generations, but also expose the discrepancies between what boomers know they should be doing to stay healthy versus the reality,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, FACP, medical director and a founding physician for MDVIP, in a release. “A health scare or serious illness is frequently the first wake-up call for people, but many chronic conditions plaguing boomers today—from diabetes to cardiovascular disease—are often preventable. This is where good primary care plays a key role, by helping patients identify their risk factors early and influencing the necessary lifestyle changes in order to mitigate, and even prevent, disease.”

The Pains of Primary Care

The gap between boomer beliefs and behavior may be linked to shortcomings in primary care, with nearly half of the respondents (45%) reporting frustrations with their primary care experience. The findings revealed:

  • The top three frustrations about visiting their primary care physician are waiting while in the office to see the doctor (32%), the limited time they actually have with the doctor (26%), and trying to get an appointment (18%).
  • 31% report that they typically spend more time sitting in the waiting room than they actually spend with their doctor, and 28% say that they spend more time getting their car oil changed than they do with their doctor.
  • 30% have had to track down their doctor’s office to get test results.
  • 23% say their doctor isn’t available when they need him/her.
  • Many boomers feel their doctor doesn’t really know them, with 31% doubting their doctor would recognize them on the street.
  • More than a third (36%) have taken action as a result of these frustrations, including 27% who have changed or have thought about changing their primary care doctor.
  • For most boomers, the actual experience of visiting their primary care doctor is a chore: 45% compare it to grocery shopping, 11% to airport security, and 10% to waiting in line at Disney. Only a quarter (25%) say their actual experience is like talking with a trusted advisor. 18% compare conversations with their doctor to talking to a boss who is running late.
  • When asked what they would most value in their primary care doctor, 62% say visits that don’t feel hurried and last as long as needed; 50% want a physician with a kind and compassionate bedside manner; and 39% want a physician who focuses more on prevention and wellness, not just treating them when they’re sick.

“These insights highlight the increasing challenges of traditional, volume-based medicine that are driving more consumers to look for healthcare alternatives,” says Bret Jorgensen, chairman and CEO of MDVIP. “Many people want and need a close relationship with their doctor, who knows them well, customizes a plan to optimize their overall health, and has the ability to intervene and coach along the way.”

About the Survey

The MDVIP Boomer Health Survey was conducted August 25 – 31, 2015, via an online interview, in English, by Ipsos Public Affairs, a non-partisan, objective, survey-based research firm. The sample was composed of 1,049 U.S. adults between the ages of 51 and 69 who have a primary care doctor or have seen a primary care doctor in the past five years. An additional group of 407 boomers were interviewed in the New York metro area.