The Lowdown on Advance Directives

Many adults in the United States had not completed advance directives

(RxWiki News) Nearly two-thirds of Americans hadn't completed an advance directive, according to a new study.

That means 63 percent of the roughly 795,000 people surveyed in this study hadn't used a primary tool for communicating their wishes in the event they are unable to make their own health care decisions, usually near the end of life. 

Only around 29 percent of those surveyed had completed a living will that specified their wishes for their end-of-life health care. And around 33 percent had chosen a health care power of attorney, this study found.

"Most experts agree that some form of written directives are a key component of advance care planning, and yet rates of completion are low and do not appear to be increasing," said lead study author Dr. Katherine Courtright, of the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, in a press release. "We need to address common barriers to completing these important documents on a national level, particularly among chronically ill patients who are at higher risk for critical illness and death."

An advance directive is a legal document that communicates your needs in the event that you are unable to make your own health care decisions. These documents specify whether you would like to be revived if your heart or breathing stops, whether you would like to donate your organs or tissues if you die, whether you're willing to use dialysis or breathing machines and other health care decisions, according to Medicare.gov.

"The treatments most Americans would choose near the end of their lives are often different from the treatments they receive," Dr. Courtright said. "Unfortunately, this disconnect can lead to unnecessary and prolonged suffering."

Ask your health care provider for more information on advance directives.

This study was published in the journal Health Affairs.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Otto Haas Charitable Trust funded this research. Information on potential conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

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Review Date: 
July 9, 2017