Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Uptake and implementation of Advance Care Planning in Australia: findings of key informant interviews

Joel J. Rhee A D , Nicholas A. Zwar B and Lynn A. Kemp A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity (CPHCE), School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Samuels Building, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.

B School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Level 3, Samuels Building, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. Email: n.zwar@unsw.edu.au

C Centre for Health Care Equity Training Research and Evaluation (CHETRE), School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, CHETRE Liverpool (Main Office), Locked Bag 7103, Liverpool BC, NSW 1871, Australia. Email: l.kemp@unsw.edu.au

D Corresponding author. Email: j.rhee@unsw.edu.au

Australian Health Review 36(1) 98-104 https://doi.org/10.1071/AH11019
Submitted: 2 March 2011  Accepted: 27 April 2011   Published: 9 February 2012

Abstract

Objective. Advance Care Planning (ACP) has an important role in enhancing patient autonomy and guiding end-of-life care. However, there is low uptake of ACP and evidence that advance care plans are often not implemented. We explored these issues in interviews with expert clinicians and representatives of key stakeholder organisations with interest in end-of-life care.

Method. Qualitative descriptive study of semi-structured telephone interviews with 23 participants.

Results. Participants thought that the low uptake of ACP in Australia is a result of inadequate awareness, societal reluctance to discuss end-of-life issues, and lack of health professionals’ involvement in ACP. Problems in implementation of advance care plans were thought to be a result of problems in accessing ACP documents; interpreting written documents; making binding decisions for future unpredictable situations; and paternalistic attitudes of health professionals and families. Participants had different perspectives on how advance care plans should be implemented, with some believing in strict implementation, whereas others believed in a more flexible approach.

Implications. Low uptake and poor implementation of advance care plans may be addressed by (1) increasing community awareness; (2) encouraging health professional involvement; and (3) system-wide implementation of multi-faceted interventions. A patient-centred approach to ACP is required to resolve the differences in views on how advance care plans should be implemented.

What is known about the topic? Advance Care Planning (ACP) has been gaining prominence in Australia for its role in enhancing a patient’s autonomy and as an important component of good end-of-life care. Evidence from overseas and a limited number of Australian studies have identified several problems with ACP. First, the uptake of ACP seems to be low. Second, even when ACP process takes place, the resultant plans are often not implemented and make little effect on delivery of end-of-life care.

What does this paper add? This paper confirms that the uptake of ACP is limited in Australia and is a result of inadequate awareness, societal reluctance to discuss end-of-life issues, and lack of health professionals’ involvement in ACP. Problems in implementation of advance care plans may be because of problems in: accessing ACP documents, interpreting written documents, making binding decisions for future unpredictable situations, and paternalistic attitudes of health professionals and families. This paper also shows that there are different perspectives in how advance care plans should be implemented, with some believing in strict implementation, whereas others believed in a more flexible approach.

What are the implications for practitioners? This paper outlines several ways in which problems in the uptake and implementation of advance care plans may be addressed. This involves (1) increasing community awareness; (2) encouraging health professional involvement in ACP; and (3) system-wide implementation of multi-faceted interventions in ACP. Our findings also suggest that there needs to be a shift from a one-size-fits-all approach to implementing advance care plans to a more flexible patient-centred approach. This approach could ensure that a patient’s autonomy and right to self-determination are adequately protected, while also catering to the needs of those requiring more flexible approaches to end-of-life decision-making.


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