Physicians' Views on Advance Care Planning and End-of-Life Care Conversations

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2018 Jul;66(6):1201-1205. doi: 10.1111/jgs.15374. Epub 2018 May 23.


Objectives: To evaluate physicians' views on advance care planning, goals of care, and end-of-life conversations.

Design: Random sample telephone survey.

Setting: United States.

Participants: Physicians (primary care specialists; pulmonology, cardiology, oncology subspecialists) actively practicing medicine and regularly seeing patients aged 65 and older (N=736; 81% male, 75% white, 66% aged ≥50.

Measurements: A 37-item telephone survey constructed by a professional polling group with national expert oversight measured attitudes and perceptions of barriers and facilitators to advance care planning. Summative data are presented here.

Results: Ninety-nine percent of participants agreed that it is important to have end-of-life conversations, yet only 29% reported that they have formal training for such conversations. Those most likely to have training included younger physicians and those caring for a racially and ethnically diverse population. Patient values and preferences were the strongest motivating factors in having advance care planning conversations, with 92% of participants rating it extremely important. Ninety-five percent of participants reported that they supported a new Medicare fee-for-service benefit reimbursing advance care planning. The biggest barrier mentioned was time availability. Other barriers included not wanting a patient to give up hope and feeling uncomfortable.

Conclusion: With more than half of physicians reporting that they feel educationally unprepared, there medical school curricula need to be strengthened to ensure readiness for end-of-life conversations. Clinician barriers need to be addressed to meet the needs of older adults and families. Policies that focus on payment for quality should be evaluated at regular intervals to monitor their effect on advance care planning.

Keywords: advance care planning; end of life; palliative care; serious illness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning*
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Inservice Training / statistics & numerical data
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Physicians* / ethics
  • Physicians* / psychology
  • Terminal Care* / ethics
  • Terminal Care* / psychology
  • United States