Barriers to completion of health care proxies: an examination of ethnic differences

Arch Intern Med. 1998 Dec 7-21;158(22):2493-7. doi: 10.1001/archinte.158.22.2493.


Background: Advance directives have not been uniformly used by different segments of the US population and studies have consistently shown a lower prevalence of advance directives among African Americans and Hispanics compared with non-Hispanic whites.

Objective: To examine barriers to completion of health care proxies for different ethnic groups.

Methods: One hundred ninety-seven subjects aged 65 years or older self-identified as African American (n = 65), Hispanic (n = 65), or non-Hispanic white (n = 67) attending a geriatrics and internal medicine outpatient clinic of a large New York City teaching hospital were administered a questionnaire. Questionnaires were developed to examine potential barriers to completion of health care proxies. Barriers were drawn from the literature and from focus groups.

Results: Significant predictors of proxy completion using logistic regression analysis included knowledge of health care proxies, availability of a health care agent, exposure to mechanical ventilation, age, and self-reported health status as fair to poor. Subjects who believed that a health care agent was irrelevant in the setting of involved family were significantly less likely to have completed a health care proxy. Although there were significant differences in the baseline completion rates of health care proxies for the 3 ethnic groups, ethnicity did not predict prior appointment of a health care agent in multivariate analysis.

Conclusions: Differences in health care proxy completion rates across white, African American, and Hispanic elderly individuals in this New York City population seem to be related to potentially reversible barriers such as lack of knowledge and the perceived irrelevance of advance directives in the setting of involved family. Enhanced educational efforts of both health care personnel and patients could increase the rate of formal health care proxy appointment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning
  • Advance Directives / statistics & numerical data*
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Patient Advocacy*
  • Terminal Care*
  • Trust
  • United States