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November 3, 1989

Hospital Policy on Advance DirectivesDo Institutions Ask Patients About Living Wills?

JAMA. 1989;262(17):2411-2414. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03430170073031

Surveys have shown that a substantial proportion of the population has prepared an advance directive. The purpose of this exploratory study was to assess the existence and nature of hospital policy regarding these documents. A survey questionnaire was sent to 394 randomly selected hospitals in the United States. Of the 219 responding hospitals, 146 (67%) reported having a formal policy regarding advance directives. The large majority of those with a policy require the patient to notify the hospital of an advance directive, while only 4% of the respondents actively inquire about these documents. Hospitals in states with legislation that sanctions advance directives were significantly more likely to have a formal policy regarding these documents than hospitals in states without such legislation. Forty-six percent of the respondents reported having an ethics committee; however, the presence of an ethics committee was not significantly associated with the presence of a formal policy. Of the 69 hospitals that had both a formal policy and an ethics committee, only 30 (43%) reported that the policy had been reviewed by the ethics committee. Ethical and legal issues regarding hospital policy on advance directives are discussed. Hospitals should adopt formal policies to ask all adult patients at the time of admission whether they have prepared a living will, durable power of attorney, or similar document; and ethics committees should play a more active role in policy development.

(JAMA. 1989;262:2411-2414)