News Feature | April 27, 2015

Advance Directives Discussions Provide An Opportunity To Engage Patients

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Healthcare IT News

Opening a dialogue between patients and physicians can make end-of-life treatment less stressful for both the provider and patient.

National Healthcare Decisions Day – held earlier this month – is a day devoted to advance directives or recording one’s end of life care wishes. According the numbers, a week or more may be needed to achieve that goal. Emmi Solutions reports studies have shown only 12 percent of patients with an advance directive had received input from their physician in its development, and between 65 and 76 percent of physicians whose patients had an Advance Directive were not aware it existed.

Encouraging patients to discuss Advance Directives is one way providers can drive better outcomes according to two studies led by researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. These studies determined open, honest communication between providers and patients can help terminally ill cancer patients make informed treatment choices resulting in better quality of life before they die. According to Jennifer Mack, MD, who was involved in both studies, “It is very helpful for these conversations to happen relatively early, not in the last days of life or when the patient is very sick, but earlier in the course of the illness when there is still time to make good decisions about end-of-life care.”

Last year, Medicare paid out $50 billion in doctor and hospital bills covering just the last two months of patients’ lives, underscoring the tremendous financial pressures that ignoring Advance Directives creates. So, can technology help bridge this communication gap?

One hospital, UF Health Shands, has taken an important step towards empowering their patients to understand the importance of Advance Directives. Using Emmi Solutions’ personalized and interactive multi-modal program, patients create contingency plans for their healthcare in light of challenging medical diagnoses. The process allows physicians and loved ones to be informed and thus prepared to act regarding the patient’s end-of-life.

“By facilitating these essential but challenging conversations, we're supporting our patients and their families through the entire continuum of care,” Anthony M. Clarizio, executive director of UF Health Shands HomeCare and ElderCare of Alachua County, explained in a press release.

By opening the dialogue between patients and physicians, healthcare organizations can help make the difficult end-of-life treatment process more efficient, less painful, and less stressful for both sides of the equation. The new mantra in healthcare has become “patient-centered care.” A recent HIMSS survey found that, while patient engagement is dominating the healthcare headlines, the results have not been fully realized. Adoption of Advance Directives as part of patient engagement can definitely help empower patients in the healthcare process.

“Patient-centered care means proactively giving patients meaningful information when they are still able to use it to make the best decisions for themselves,” said Anne M. Meiring, senior quality improvement specialist with the patient experience program at UF Health Shands Hospital. “Critical communication gaps can exist during end-of-life healthcare and they contribute to the emotional and financial burdens that people, their families and their caretakers experience during such a trying time,” adds Devin Gross, CEO of Emmi Solutions. “Empowering people to make decisions about their own care can help to ease some of these strains.”