Background: The major health care organizations in a geographically defined area implemented an extensive, collaborative advance directive education program approximately 2 years prior to this study.
Objectives: To determine for a geographically defined population the prevalence and type of end-of-life planning and the relationship between end-of-life plans and decisions in all local health care organizations, including hospitals, medical clinics, long-term care facilities, home health agencies, hospices, and the county health department.
Methods: For more than 11 months, end-of-life planning and decisions were retrospectively studied for all adult decedents residing in areas within 5 ZIP codes. These decedents were mentally capable in the 10 years prior to death and died while under the care of the participating health care organizations. Data were collected from medical records and death certificates. Treating physicians and decedent proxies were also contacted for interviews.
Results: A total of 540 decedents were included in this study. The prevalence of written advance directives was 85%. Almost all these documents (95%) were in the decedent's medical record. The median time between advance directive documentation and death was 1.2 years. Almost all advance directive documents requested that treatment be forgone as death neared. Treatment was forgone in 98% of the deaths. Treatment preferences expressed in advance directives seemed to be consistently followed while making end-of-life decisions.
Conclusions: This study provides a more complete picture of death, end-of-life planning, and decision making in a geographic area where an extensive advance directive education program exists. It indicates that advance planning can be prevalent and can effectively guide end-of-life decisions.