Objective: Older adults are less likely than other age groups to participate in clinical decision-making. To enhance participation, we sought to understand how older adults consider and discuss their life and health goals during the clinical encounter.
Methods: We conducted six focus groups: four with community-dwelling older persons (n=42), one with geriatricians and internists (n=6), and one with rehabilitation nurses (n=5). Participants were asked to discuss: patients' life and health goals; communication about goals, and perception of agreement about health goals. Group interactions were tape-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using content analysis.
Results: All participants were willing to discuss goals, but varied in the degree to which they did so. Reasons for non-discussion included that goal setting was not a priority given limited time, visits focused on symptoms, mutual perception of disinterest, and the presumption that all patients' goals were the same.
Conclusion: Interventions to enhance goal setting need to address key barriers to promoting goals discussions. Participants recognized the benefits of goal setting, however, training and instruments are needed to integrate goal setting into medicine.
Practice implications: Setting goals initially and reviewing them periodically may be a comprehensive, time-efficient way of integrating patients' goals into their care plans.