Outpatients' attitudes and understanding regarding living wills

J Gen Intern Med. 1993 May;8(5):259-63. doi: 10.1007/BF02600093.


Objective: To assess outpatients' attitudes toward and understanding of a standard living will.

Design: Survey using a self-administered questionnaire that patients completed after they had read a sample living will.

Setting: General medicine clinic of a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center.

Patients: Two hundred fourteen patients (85% of those approached) attending a continuity care clinic appointment. Eighty-seven percent were men; mean age was 60 years.

Measurements and main results: Patients' attitudes toward living wills, understanding of the terminology contained in living wills, desire to discuss living wills with their doctors, and desire to prepare a living will.

Results: Seventy-two percent of the patients had prior knowledge of living wills, though only 53% had discussed the topic with family members and only 14% with physicians. Half felt that the living will terminology should be simplified, and 55% were unable to identify the correct definition for at least one commonly used term. Desire to prepare a living will was positively associated with better understanding of the sample document and previous knowledge of and exposure to living wills, and was negatively associated with concern about its use and revocability (all p < 0.001). Patients who reported poor understanding of the living will were more likely to want to discuss the topic with a physician (p < 0.01).

Conclusions: In this ambulatory patient population attitudes toward living wills were influenced by knowledge and understanding of these documents. Primary care physicians and institutions should develop patient education strategies that enhance understanding of advance directives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Comprehension*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Living Wills*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outpatients / psychology
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Withholding Treatment