A method to communicate patient preferences about medically indicated life-sustaining treatment in the out-of-hospital setting

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1996 Jul;44(7):785-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1996.tb03734.x.


Objective: Patient preferences for life-sustaining treatment are frequently unknown at critical moments, which often results in clinicians providing treatment that is not medically indicated and/or may not be consistent with patient desires. A consortium of Oregon health care professionals developed the Medical Treatment Coversheet (MTC) to standardize documentation of patient preferences in the out-of-hospital setting by having corresponding physician orders available at the patient's location. We describe a unique process of development, evaluation, and implementation of the MTC.

Design: First, we conducted focus groups of providers to help draft the MTC. Second, the accuracy of MTC interpretation was determined by cohorts of acute and long-term care providers by indicating their treatment approach to three hypothetical written scenarios. They responded to the same scenarios twice, with and without the MTC. Responses were compared with each other and with ideal responses (most medically appropriate and in agreement with patient preferences) as defined by an expert panel. Finally, we are instituting pilot projects and developing a plan for statewide voluntary implementation of the MTC.

Setting: Urban and rural long-term care facilities and emergency medical service systems in Oregon.

Participants: Focus groups included 28 general internists practicing in urban and rural settings and five nurses working in a long-term care facility. In addition, 87 providers (19 primary care physicians, 20 emergency physicians, 26 paramedics, and 22 long-term care nurses) participated in the evaluation of the form by responding to hypothetical scenarios. Providers in long-term care facilities in both an urban and rural area helped with pilot implementation of the MTC. Use of the MTC in noninstitutional settings was not evaluated.

Main outcome measures: Suggestions from focus groups were incorporated into the form. For the hypothetical scenario responses, ideal appropriateness scores were analyzed, with a total possible score of 30 for each acute care provider and 15 for each long-term care provider. Statistically significant differences were determined using a paired t test. We report the experience of providers who helped with the pilot implementation of the form.

Results: Focus groups would use the MTC and believed it would be useful for their patients. Comparing responses to the hypothetical scenarios without the MTC to those with the MTC, 37% of treatment decisions changed for acute care and 29% changed for long-term care providers. Changes were attributable overwhelmingly to withholding treatments consistent with patient preferences. Compared with the ideal, decisions were more appropriate for all specific treatments across all scenarios and clinician groups with the MTC, with one exception: some advanced emergency treatments were withheld inappropriately by 18% of acute care providers with the MTC, (chi-square = 15.94, P < .0001). For all scenarios combined, appropriateness scores increased significantly with the MTC for both acute care (16.4 to 22.3, P < .0001) and long-term care providers (8.8 to 12.2, P < .0001). Overall, providers helping with the pilot implementation were satisfied with the document, organizational endorsements, and available informational resources.

Conclusion: We describe our process for development, initial evaluation, and implementation of the MTC. In clinical scenarios overall, the MTC improves the appropriateness of clinicians' decisions about life-sustaining treatments. We are planning statewide implementation of the MTC after appropriate education of clinicians.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning*
  • Advance Directives*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Communication
  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Home Care Services
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care*
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Oregon
  • Pilot Projects
  • Records*
  • Withholding Treatment*