Effectiveness of Advance Care Planning: What Works, What Doesn’t, and What Needs to Change?


Susan W. Tolle and Katrina Hedberg


An increasing recognition over the past five decades of the importance of patients’ autonomy and the right to be able to choose to limit medical treatment at the end of life has led to the development of a number of documents related to advance care planning, including the advance directive, medical power of attorney, and portable orders for life-sustaining treatment (POLST). While these documents are important aspects of advance care planning, without having goals-of-care conversations, a specific plan, and necessary supports to achieve these goals, the documents alone offer a false promise. Healthcare professionals must be trained on how to have indepth goals-of-care conversations with patients and their families, and effectively document the decisions. Advance care planning needs to be viewed as a process that must continue as the patient’s health status, social support system, and living environment change. Designating a healthcare representative who participates in goals-of-care conversations and can work with the healthcare team to make “just in time” decisions about care reduces the burden and stress on friends and family. In this article we discuss the strengths and limitations of advance directives, medical power of attorney forms, and POLST forms; propose concrete changes to optimize the effectiveness of each; and present a comprehensive approach to advance care planning that we hope will improve care for those nearing the end of life, and ensure that their wishes and goals to have or to limit treatment are more consistently honored.




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