Background: The attitudes of hospitalized patients and their attending physicians about advance directives have not been well studied. We compared these attitudes and explored relationships between them and the frequency of actual directives and directive discussions during hospitalization.
Methods: We conducted scripted interviews with 258 (94.5%) of 273 patients admitted consecutively to the acute medical service of a community teaching hospital in Rochester, NY, and contemporaneously surveyed their attending physicians (n = 68) regarding attitudes about advance directives. Primary outcome measures were patients' willingness to discuss directives, actual physician-patient directive discussions, and patients' preferences for life-sustaining treatments. Also measured were physicians' indications for directive discussions, their reasons not to discuss directives, and their knowledge and attitudes about life-sustaining treatments.
Results: Eighty-one percent (172/212) of competent interviewed patients either did (100) or wanted to (72) discuss advance directives in hospital. Forty-one percent of patients chose to forgo cardiopulmonary resuscitation; 24% to 41% refused other life-sustaining interventions (intensive care unit admission, mechanical ventilation, cardioversion, vasopressors). Overall, 90% (246/273) of all patients met at least one of three criteria reported by their physicians as indications for advance directive discussions: age at least 75 years, critical or potentially fatal illness, and patients' desire to discuss directives. Multiple logistic regression revealed that these same variables predicted patients' willingness to discuss cardiopulmonary resuscitation, their preferences to receive or forgo cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the frequency of physician-patient discussions about these issues.
Conclusions: Most medical inpatients in a community hospital want to, are able to, and meet their own physicians' indications to discuss advance directives. Hospitalization presents an unrealized opportunity for physicians and patients to initiate these discussions.