Discharge-planning for long-term care needs: the values and priorities of older people, their younger relatives and health professionals
Discharge-planning decisions about long-term care (LTC) can be difficult and distressing for older people, families and discharge-planning health professionals. Retrospective research suggests that despite good intentions and a shared focus on the best interests of the older person, stakeholders may hold very different values about good outcomes and how to decide them. We aimed to compare the opinions and values of frail elders living at home, younger relatives and health professionals experienced in discharge-planning, prospectively: before, not after, a LTC decision. We interviewed three types of stakeholders (10 older people, 8 relatives and 18 health professionals) using a hypothetical vignette about a frail elder leaving hospital. In a mixed methods design, we quantitatively compared the discharge plans and decision-makers that stakeholders suggested, and qualitatively analysed the 36 interview transcripts for participants' articulation of underlying values during these discussions. Older participants often suggested safe restrictive options (residential care, proxy decision-making) for the hypothetical frail elder, while advocating autonomy for themselves. Younger people generally endorsed autonomous decision-making and less restrictive discharge options especially if the elder was mentally competent, but reported difficult ethical tensions between safety and autonomy. Individual personality and preferences, mental capacity, and the importance of personal care in supporting autonomy were central themes consistent with the Ecological Theory of Aging. Accordingly, discharge planners can usefully articulate the balance of safety and autonomy, conceptualizing home care as maintaining independence rather than accepting dependence. Ethical training should incorporate sophisticated models of practice specifying both psychological and physical safety as components of beneficence. Few elders adopt a consumer approach to LTC: health professionals can encourage mid-life adults to consider later care needs when planning for retirement.