Advance care planning for fatal chronic illness: avoiding commonplace errors and unwarranted suffering

Ann Intern Med. 2003 May 20;138(10):812-8. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-138-10-200305200-00009.


Patients with eventually fatal illnesses often receive routine treatments in response to health problems rather than treatments arising from planning that incorporates the patient's situation and preferences. This paper considers the case of an elderly man with advanced lung disease who had mechanical ventilation and aggressive intensive care, in part because his nursing home clinicians did not complete an advance care plan and his do-not-resuscitate order did not accompany him to the hospital. The errors that led to his hospitalization and his unwanted treatment there demonstrate how the ordinary lack of advance care planning is deleterious for patients who are nearing the end of life. We discuss serious, recurring, and generally unnoticed errors in planning for care near the end of life and possible steps toward improvement. Repairing these shortcomings will require quality improvement and system redesign efforts, methods familiar from patient safety initiatives. Reliable improvement will also require making it unacceptable for clinicians to fail to plan ahead for care during fatal chronic illness.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning / standards*
  • Advance Directives
  • Aged
  • Family
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors*
  • Nursing Homes / standards*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / therapy*
  • Resuscitation Orders
  • Social Support
  • Withholding Treatment*