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November 13, 1995

Promoting Completion of Health Care Proxies Following Hospitalization: A Randomized Controlled Trial in a Community Hospital

Author Affiliations

From St Mary's Hospital, Rochester, NY.

Arch Intern Med. 1995;155(20):2202-2206. doi:10.1001/archinte.1995.00430200088012

Background:  The wider use of written advance directives is popular but problematic. We have shown previously that acute hospitalization in the era of the Patient Self-Determination Act can facilitate directive discussions and documentation. We investigated whether a simple educational intervention following hospitalization would increase patients' execution of durable health care proxies.

Methods:  We studied a consecutive series of patients (n=162) recently discharged from the acute care medical service of a community hospital where they had been interviewed about advance directives. The intervention group was randomized to receive an educational brochure and encouragement to execute durable health care proxies. The primary outcome was the proportion of patients in each group with completed durable health care proxies on file in their primary physicians' offices.

Results:  Overall, only 20 (12.3%) of 162 patients had documented proxies, 17 of whom (85%) were 65 years of age or older, with no difference between the intervention and control groups (11 [13.3%] of 83 vs nine [11.4%] of 79, respectively). Subgroup analysis of elderly patients also revealed no intervention effect. Univariate analysis revealed three significant predictors of patients' proxy completion: patient age, whether patients had discussed directives in hospital with their physicians, and whether patients' physicians completed proxies for themselves. Multiple logistic regression analysis showed that these three variables interact to predict the probability of patients' executing proxies.

Conclusions:  Simple educational interventions, like those mandated by the Patient Self-Determination Act, are unlikely to increase patients' completion of durable healthcare proxies. Multidimensional interventions that target both elderly patients and their personal physicians should be tested in the future. Discussion in hospital about advance directives can be a useful component of such efforts.(Arch Intern Med. 1995;155:2202-2206)