Advanced Care Directives: Overcoming the Obstacles

J Grad Med Educ. 2015 Mar;7(1):91-4. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-14-00145.1.


Background: Advanced care directives (ACDs) and end-of-life discussions are important and typically difficult to initiate because of the sensitive nature of the topic and competing clinical priorities. Resident physicians need to have these conversations but often do not in their continuity clinics.

Objective: We implemented a program to (1) increase physician opportunity to discuss end-of-life wishes with their patients, and (2) improve residents' confidence in leading discussions regarding ACDs.

Intervention: A total of 95 residents in an academic outpatient internal medicine resident continuity clinic participated in a formalized curriculum (didactic sessions, simulations, and academic detailing). Clinic workflow alterations prompted the staff to question if patients had an ACD or living will, and then cued residents to discuss these issues with the patients if they did not.

Results: Of the 77% of patients who were asked about ACDs, 74% had no ACD but were interested in discussing this topic. After our intervention, 65% (62 of 95) of our residents reported having at least 1 outpatient discussion with their patients. Residents reported increased confidence directing and discussing advanced care planning with older patients and conducting a family meeting (P < .01).

Conclusions: By delivering a formalized curriculum and creating a clinical environment that supports such discussions, resident physicians had more ACD discussions with their patients and reported increased confidence. When provided information and opportunity, patients consistently expressed interest in talking with their physician about their advanced care wishes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directives*
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Graduate
  • Educational Measurement
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / education*
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • South Carolina