According to a study published this month in the Journal of Patient Safety, physicians who viewed a patient’s living will consistently failed to reach a consensus in determining what end-of-life treatment was appropriate to honor the patient’s stated goals. The findings of the study – in which only two out of nine patient hypotheticals resulted in the doctors reaching a consensus on the requested treatment – suggest that more care needs to be put into the creation of living wills and advanced healthcare directives (ADRs) in order to provide the doctors who will actually be utilizing them with greater clarity on the type of treatment that should be provided.
How the Study Was Conducted
The study was led by Ferdinando Mirarchi, an ER physician at the University of Pittsburgh, who solicited responses from 1366 medical professionals, primarily those working in ERs, at 13 teaching hospitals across the country. The medical professionals were provided with 9 different clinical scenarios involving patients as well as corresponding living will legal documents expressing the patient’s wishes regarding medical decisions and end-of-life care. The professionals were asked to evaluate the situation and then provide a response indicating what type of care they would provide in light of the clinical scenario and the living will, which could include “full aggressive treatment,” “aggressive care with a trial of CPR for 3 minutes when in cardiac arrest,” and “end-of-life…care with no CPR/allow natural death.” In a separate part of the study, medical professionals were provided with video testimonials from the patients themselves and then asked to make a determination on the care to be provided.
Where the doctors viewed only the living will documents, they reached a 95% consensus rate in only two out of the nine clinical scenarios presented. The other seven scenarios presented an alarming lack of clarity among the professionals in interpreting the living wills, and, in one case, only 36% of the doctors opted to a resuscitate a 61-year old man who did desire to be resuscitated, while the majority of professionals interpreted the man’s living will incorrectly. Notably, viewing the testimonials from the patients did increase the doctors’ ability to interpret the living wills correctly.
Make Sure Your Living Will is ADR Is Complete, Accurate, and Comprehensive
In recent years, many people have begun creating their own advanced medical care documents through the ease of obtaining boilerplate forms on the Internet. But this study appears to indicate that simply having a living will is no substitute for creating a legally valid document that clearly and comprehensively states your wishes regarding future care in a way that will be understood by your family and the medical professionals who will indeed be providing critical care at a time when decisions must be in a matter of minutes or even less.
By working with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can ensure that you create a living will or ADR that will protect your interests when it matters most.
Work with a Pasadena Estate Planning Attorney Today
Christopher B. Johnson is an estate planning attorney in Pasadena, CA who has helped thousands of individuals and families over the past 18 years in creating and reaching their estate planning objectives, including the creation of ADRs and living wills. Schedule a consultation with him today to discuss your estate planning and/or probate goals.