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Advance directives and emergency department patients: ownership rates and perceptions of use

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Abstract Background:

Advance directives (ADs) are rarely availĀ­able in Australia to guide management but may become more important as our population ages. Aims:

The present study aimed to determine patient knowledge, perception and ownership rates of ADs and the factors that impact upon these variables. Methods:

A cross-sectional survey of emergency department patients was undertaken. The main outcome measures were: (i) prior discussion about the extent of medical treatment and ADs, (ii) knowledge and perceptions of ADs, (iii) present AD ownership rates and (iv) likelihood of future AD ownership. Generalized linear models were used for analysis. Results:

Four hundred and three patients were enrolled. The mean age of patients was 73 years and 239 (59.3%) were male. Two hundred and forty patients (59.6%) had discussed the extent of treatment. Only 81 patients (20.1%) had discussed the use of an AD. One hundred and thirty-seven patients (34.0%) knew of one type of AD and 333 patients (82.6%) thought some ADs were a good idea. Only 32 patients (7.9%) owned an AD, although 276 (68.5%) would consider owning one. The main reason for never obtaining an AD was ‘always wanting full treatment’ (93 patients, 23.1%). Level of education was the only characteristic that impacted significantly upon an outcome measure. Patients with a higher level of education were more likely to have known and spoken about ADs, to own an AD and to consider owning one. Conclusions:

AD knowledge and ownership rates were low. However, most patients perceive them favourably and many would consider owning one. Intervention strategies to improve AD awareness are indicated. This may empower patients to more effectively participate in their own advance care planning. (Intern Med J 2003; 33: 586−592)

Keywords: advance care planning; advance directive; living wills; power of attorney; treatment

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Emergency Medicine, Royal Melbourne Hospital, 2: School of Physiotherapy, University of Melbourne, 3: Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and

Publication date: December 1, 2003


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