Planning with elderly outpatients for contingencies of severe illness - A survey and clinical trial

Thomas E. Finucane, James M. Shumway, Roxann L. Powers, Robert M. D'Alessandri

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94 Scopus citations


The authors examined whether elderly patients would report positive or adverse emotional effects after their doctor, during a routine clinic visit, asked them to begin planning for future serious illness. Seventy-four patients, 65 years old or older, who were followed at a university hospital medical clinic were randomly allocated to an intervention or a control group. The intervention was a detailed discussion with the patient's physician of the patient's wishes about decision making and life support therapy in the event of extreme or incapacitating illness. A blinded interviewer then asked all consenting patients how they felt about the physician, the clinic visit, and their medical care. Intervention-group patients were questioned about their reactions to the physician and the discussion. Four important findings emerged: 1) Some emotional uncertainty was created when doctors raised these questions unexpectedly: one patient became visibly upset during the discussion, and three who gave consent to be interviewed afterward said that the discussion had made them wonder about their health. Nonetheless, all patients who received the intervention and completed the study were pleased that their doctor had asked. 2) Only 44% of all consenting patients reported having discussed these issues previously; only one had done so with a doctor. 3) 97% of patients who responded wanted to be kept informed by the doctor about their medical situations in times of serious illness. 4) Patients' replies to specific questions about life-sustaining therapy in the event of their own severe illnesses were quite variable. During routine clinic visits doctors can encourage most elderly patients to begin specific planning for potential severe illnesses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-325
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 1988


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • decision making
  • elderly outpatients
  • life support systems
  • patient-doctor communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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