Psychiatric Advance Directives as an Ethical Communication Tool: An Analysis of Definitions

Billy Table, Jaime Thomas, and Virginia A. Brown




A psychiatric advance directive (PAD) is a communication tool that promotes patients’ autonomy and gives capacitated adults who live with serious mental illnesses the ability to record their preferences for care and designate a proxy decision maker before a healthcare crisis. Despite a high degree of interest by patients and previous studies that recommend that clinicians facilitate the completion of PADs, the rate of implementation of PAD remains low. Research indicates that many clinicians lack the necessary experience to facilitate the completion of PADs and to use them, and, as a consequence, do not effectively engage patients about PADs. This study developed practical recommendations for clinicians to improve their ability to communicate and facilitate PADs. We (1) thematically analyzed definitions of PADs published in 118 articles across disciplines, and (2) presented our recommendations for enhanced communication in clinical practice that emphasizes patient-centeredness, usefulness, and clarity, aligned with evidence-based practices that put patients’ autonomy and understanding first. While there is no one-size-fits-all script to engage patients in complex conversations, our recommended strategies include an emphasis on patients’ autonomy, the adaptation of word choices, the use of metaphor not simile, and checking for patients’ understanding as effective methods of clinical communication.




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