Perspectives of Health-Care Providers Toward Advance Care Planning in Patients With Advanced Cancer and Congestive Heart Failure

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Advance care planning (ACP) discussions afford patients and physicians a chance to better understand patients’ values and wishes regarding end-of-life care; however, these conversations typically take place late in the course of a disease. The goal of this study was to clarify attitudes of oncologists, cardiologists, and primary care physicians (PCPs) toward ACP and to identify persistent barriers to timely ACP discussion following a quality improvement initiative at our health system geared at improvement in ACP implementation.


A 20-question, cross-sectional online survey was created and distributed to cardiologists, oncologists, PCPs, and cardiology and oncology support staff at the NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) from February to March 2015. A total of 117 individuals (46% of distributed) completed the surveys. The results were compiled using an online survey analysis tool (SurveyMonkey, Inc., Palo Alto, California, USA).


Only 15% of cardiologists felt it was their responsibility to conduct ACP discussions with their patients having congestive heart failure (CHF). In contrast, 68% of oncologists accepted this discussion as their responsibility in patients with terminal cancer (P < .01). These views were mirrored by PCPs, as 68% of PCPs felt personally responsible for ACP discussion with patients having CHF, while only 34% felt the same about patients with cancer. Reported documentation of these discussions in the electronic health record was inconsistent between specialties. Among all surveyed specialties, lack of time was the major barrier limiting ACP discussion. Perceived patient discomfort and discomfort of the patient’s family toward these discussions were also significant reported barriers.


Attitudes toward ACP implementation vary considerably by medical specialty and medical condition, with oncologists in this study tending to feel more personal responsibility for these discussions with patients having cancer than cardiologists with their patients having heart failure. Robust implementation of ACP across the spectrum of medical diagnoses is likely to require a true collaboration between office-based PCPs and specialists in both the inpatient and the ambulatory settings.

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