Effect of Advance Care Planning on Surrogate Decision Makers' Preparedness for Decision Making: Results of a Mixed-Methods Randomized Controlled Trial

Elizabeth Thiede, Benjamin H. Levi, Daniella Lipnick, Rhonda Johnson, In Seo La, Erik B. Lehman, Theresa Smith, Debra Wiegand, Michael Green, Lauren Jodi Van Scoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Advance care planning (ACP) is intended to help patients and their spokespersons prepare for end-of-life decision making, yet little is known about what factors influence the extent to which spokespersons feel prepared for that role. Objective: To examine spokespersons' perceived preparedness for surrogate decision making after engaging in ACP. Design: Mixed methods experimental design with qualitative thematic analysis and data transformation (creating categorical data from rich qualitative data) of interviews collected during a randomized controlled trial (2012-2017). Setting/Participants: Two tertiary care medical centers (Hershey, PA and Boston, MA). Of 285 dyads (patients with advanced illness and their spokespersons) enrolled in the trial, 200 spokesperson interviews were purposively sampled and 198 included in the analyses. Main Outcomes and Measures: Interviews with spokespersons (four weeks post-intervention) explored spokespersons' perceived preparedness for surrogate decision making, occurrence of ACP conversations, and spokespersons' intentions regarding future surrogate decisions. Data transformation was used to categorize participants' responses into three categories: Very Prepared, Very Unprepared, or In Between Prepared and Unprepared. Themes and categories were compared across arms. Results: About 72.72% of spokespersons (144/198) reported being Very Prepared and 27.28% (54/198) reported being Very Unprepared or In Between with no differences in preparedness across study arms. Occurrence of post-intervention ACP conversations did not influence perceived preparedness; however, spokespersons who used an ACP decision aid reported more conversations. Four themes emerged to explain spokespersons' perceived preparedness: (1) perceptions about ACP; (2) level of comfort with uncertainty; (3) relational issues; and (4) personal characteristics. Regarding future intentions, it emerged that spokespersons believed their knowledge of patient wishes, as well as other personal, relational, situational, and emotional factors would influence their surrogate decisions. Conclusions: Factors extrinsic to specific ACP interventions influence how prepared spokespersons feel to act as spokespersons. Understanding these factors is important for understanding how to improve concordance between patients' stated end-of-life wishes and surrogate decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)982-993
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of palliative medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Nursing
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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