Purpose: To discover where patients with advance directives (ADs) obtain them and to learn what patients' understanding is of how ADs function.
Methods: Adult patients with ADs admitted to the four acute-care hospitals in Monterey County, California, were asked to participate in a survey during the study period 1 July to 8 September 2009.
Results: Of 5,811 total admissions, 455 patients (7 percent) had an AD. Of these 455 patients, 204 (45 percent) completed our survey. Participants included 146 patients with a power of attorney for healthcare (72 percent), and 21 patients who were unable to identify the type of AD they had (10 percent). Attorneys provided ADs to 99 participants (49 percent) and personal physicians provided ADs to 12 participants (6 percent). Most participants (181, or 89 percent) had spoken to their family about their AD; fewer (131, or 65 percent) to their physician. Of the 146 participants with a power of attorney, only 73 (50 percent) said they had spoken specifically to their agent. Family members (38 percent) and attorneys (35 percent) were seen as helpful in completing ADs; physicians (1 percent) were not.
Conclusions: Few study participants had advance directives, and attorneys provided and discussed ADs with study participants more than physicians did. Because many patients with ADs seem not to fully understand them, new approaches to advance planning education must be developed.