Conversations about treatment preferences before high-risk surgery: a pilot study in the preoperative testing center

J Palliat Med. 2014 Jun;17(6):701-7. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2013.0311. Epub 2014 May 15.


Background: It is important to engage patients and surrogates in conversations about goals and preferences for medical treatment before high-risk surgery. However, few interventions have been tested to facilitate these discussions.

Objective: To assess the acceptability and feasibility of a facilitated, structured conversation with patients and surrogates about patient goals and preferences for medical treatment during their visit to a preoperative testing center before high-risk surgery.

Design: A randomized controlled pilot study in the preoperative testing center at a tertiary academic hospital over a 4-month period.

Measurements: We used baseline and preoperative surveys to assess feasibility, and to compare differences in worry, surrogate burden, and patient-surrogate concordance about treatment preferences in conversation and control groups. We assessed acceptability of the conversation qualitatively and through surveys.

Results: Of 146 eligible patients, 79 were approached, and 65 declined to participate. Thirteen completed the study and 8 were randomized to the structured conversation. Major recruitment barriers included lack of time, or surrogate unavailability. Most postconversation patients were less worried, and more hopeful for a good recovery before surgery; 7 of 8 would recommend the conversation. Six of 8 surrogates reported postoperatively that the conversation helped prepare them to be a surrogate. Concordance improved in the intervention group only.

Conclusions: Current processes of care present major barriers to conducting facilitated conversations in the preoperative testing center. Among a small group of patients and surrogates, most found a structured conversation about the patient's goals and preferences for medical treatment helpful before high-risk surgery.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Professional-Family Relations*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / adverse effects*