Why don't emergency department patients have advance directives?

Acad Emerg Med. 1999 Oct;6(10):1054-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.1999.tb01192.x.


Objectives: In 1997 the authors determined that only 27% of their adult ED patients had advance directives (ADs). The purpose of this follow-up study was to determine the reasons why their adult ED patients do not have ADs.

Methods: This prospective study enrolled patients from a convenience sample of representative shifts in the ED selected over a three-month period. Survey questions included demographic information, whether the patients had a life-threatening medical problem, whether they had an AD, with whom they had discussed their ADs, and the reasons why they did not have an AD. We excluded those who refused participation or who were incapacitated (i.e., any patient with a condition that precluded him or her from answering the questionnaire himself or herself, such as an altered level of consciousness, dementia, mental retardation, or inability to understand English).

Results: Four hundred seventy-six subjects were enrolled during the study period from an ED census of 816 adult patients. Three hundred forty patients were not included in the study for the following reasons: inability to complete the survey, refusal to participate, or not being approached by the interviewers. Of those enrolled, 77% of the patients did not have an AD (females, 73%; males, 80%). The most frequent reasons given for not having an AD were: 40% never thought about it, 24% preferred family to make the decision, and 23% were procrastinating. Factors jointly predictive of having an AD were older age, having a specialist, having a life-threatening medical problem, and not being Catholic. Patients who had ADs were discussing their ADs with their primary care physicians (PCPs) only 5% of the time.

Conclusion: Many patients, even when they have life-threatening medical problems, do not have an AD, and several reasons for this have been identified. Few of these ED patients who had ADs had discussed them with their physicians. Further studies should assess whether more physician intervention would increase the percentage of patients who have ADs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Advance Directives*
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires