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Advance Directives Among Health Care Professionals at a Community-Based Cancer Center

      OBJECTIVE

      To determine the proportion of health care professionals at our community-based cancer center who had completed advance directives (ADs) and to identify barriers to their doing so.

      PARTICIPANTS AND METHODS

      On October 11, 2005, we sent a Web-based survey via e-mail to 170 health care professionals who have face-to-face contacts with patients at our institution. These health care professionals included medical (physicians, n=15), associate (physician assistants and nurse practitioners, n=7), and support (nurses, radiation therapists, medical or nurse assistants, social workers, nutritionists, geneticist, chaplain, family counsel- or, and patient liaisons; n=148) staff members. The survey ended on October 31, 2005. For the purpose of this survey, having a written AD was defined as having both a living will and a power of attorney for health care. Key outcome measures of our study were existence of ADs, placement of ADs in the medical record, communication of ADs with loved ones and primary care physician, and factors that influenced the decision to have an AD. Statistical tests included the χ2 and Fisher exact tests.

      RESULTS

      Of the 170 health care professionals to whom the survey was sent, 134 (79%) responded. Although 83% reported that they had discussed their wishes regarding future life-sustaining medical care with those closest to them, only 35% had a written AD (58% of medical staff, 50% of associate staff, and 32% of support staff). Among those with ADs, 66% had informed their primary care physician, and 71% were certain that their ADs were in their medical records. Older age (P<.001), role as medical or associate staff (P=.05), and more years of work experience with patients with cancer (P=.05) were associated with having an AD, whereas sex, marital or partnership status, and number of children were not. Perceived lack of time was the most common barrier cited (45%). Among those without an AD, 75% reported having end-of-life discussions with family members or loved ones.

      CONCLUSION

      Despite work experience with patients who have a high mortality rate, health care professionals at our cancer center do not adequately communicate (via a written AD) end-of-life planning decisions to their own primary care physicians.
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      Linked Article

      • Advance Directives: Know What You Want, Get What You Need
        Mayo Clinic ProceedingsVol. 82Issue 12
        • Preview
          Ongoing progress in the delivery of health care makes the need to clarify patient wishes more critical than ever. This is particularly true for intensive care medicine and palliative care. We can extend life using technologically sophisticated devices that may or may not reverse disease or ensure a quality of life that is compatible with patients' wishes.
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