Engagement in Steps of Advance Health Care Planning by Homeless Veterans

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Communicating health care preferences in advance, so that wishes can be honored if the person becomes unable to participate in decision-making, is especially important for vulnerable populations such as homeless veterans. Hospitals are required to inform patients of their rights to document their preferences, but completion rates for advance directives are low. Conceptualizing advance health care planning as a series of health behavior steps emphasizing communication is recommended for improving engagement in advance health care planning. The authors used program evaluation data from psychoeducational groups with 288 homeless veterans to learn about their previous experience with different steps of advance health care planning and their personal goals for future steps. Results revealed a significant discrepancy between what these veterans reported they have done and information available to health care providers in the medical record: Only 26% had an advance directive in the medical record, but 70% reported they had thought about the care they would want, and almost half reported they had talked with a trusted other or named someone to make decisions for them. The most frequent goal endorsed by veterans attending groups was discussing advance health care planning with family or trusted others and/or naming someone to be a decision maker. These findings indicate a need for improved communication and documentation of veteran preferences about emergency and end of life care. Results are also consistent with interventions tailored to varying readiness for different steps of advance health care planning.

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