Background: Although many patients and physicians support the concept of advance care planning, only a small percentage of patients actually have the necessary discussion with health care providers. Hospital-based physicians other than primary care providers often are needed to increase physician, patient, and proxy communication about advanced directives. This study evaluated the effectiveness of a 5-10-min discussion designed to foster dialogue between patients and their proxies in a preoperative evaluation clinic. The discussions were lead by anesthesiologists.
Methods: A randomized controlled trial was conducted from September 1998 through May 1999 in a preoperative evaluation clinic at University of California, San Francisco, a tertiary care center. English-speaking patients aged 65 yr or older who were scheduled for elective surgery were randomized to receive a short information session stressing the importance of communication about end-of-life care between the patients and their proxies. Patients randomized to the control group received the standard preoperative anesthesia screening. An admitting counselor questioned all patients (control and intervention) about whether they have an advanced directive as part of the registration process before their arrival in clinic.
Results: The intervention significantly increased discussions about end-of-life care between patients and their proxies. Eighty seven percent of patients reported having discussions with their proxies as compared with only 66% of control patients (P = 0.001). The intervention also increased durable power of attorney completion rate to 27% as compared with 10% completion rate by controls.
Conclusions: The preoperative evaluation period can be an opportunity to encourage patient and proxy communication about end-of-life care.