Communication of advance care planning decisions: A retrospective cohort study of documents in general practice

Laura Panozzo, Pam Harvey, Meagan Jane Adams, Dennis O'Connor, Bernadette Ward

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Background: Doctors, particularly general practitioners, play a significant role in assisting patients to create advance care plans. When medically indicated, these documents are important tools to promote congruence between end-of-life care and patient's personal preferences. Despite this, little is known regarding the availability of these documents in hospitals. The aim of this study was to identify the proportion of people who died in hospital without an advance care plan and how many of these had advance care planning (ACP) documents in their general practice records. Methods: A retrospective cohort study was conducted of patient hospital records with manual linkage to general practice records. The large regional hospital in Victoria, Australia has a catchment population in excess of 300,000 people. The study sample was patients aged 75 years and over who died in the hospital between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2017. The hospital records of these patients were examined to identify those which did not have a system alert for ACP documents on the file. Alerted ACP documents were limited to those legislated in the state of Victoria: advance care plan, Enduring Power of Attorney (Medical Treatment) or Enduring Power of Guardianship. Where no ACP document system alert was found in the hospital record, the patient's nominated general practice was consented to participate and the corresponding general practice record was examined. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics. Results: Of the 406 patients who died in hospital, 76.1% (309) did not have a system alert for any ACP document. Of the 309 hospital records without a system alert, 144 (46.7%) corresponding general practice records were examined. Of these, 14.6% included at least one ACP document, including four advance care plans, that were not available in hospital. Conclusions: Unless ACP documents are consistently communicated from general practice, patient's preferences may be unknown during end-of-life care. It is important that both doctors and patients are supported to use connected electronic health records to ensure that documents are readily available to healthcare staff when they are required.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108
Number of pages7
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2020


  • Advance care planning
  • End-of-life care.
  • General practice.
  • Palliative medicine.

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