LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – As baby boomers retire, and the population continues to age, advance directives become very important.
Respecting Choices, a Gundersen Health System program, has earned worldwide recognition for its success in encouraging people to communicate their end of life decisions to their families—and is now the model for an $8.5 million, five-year international study.
The Respecting Choices program is an advance care planning program on how to talk to patients and their families about end of life care.
Gundersen Health System started the program in 1993, and it has seen great success in Australia, Singapore, Germany, and Canada.
Across the United States, only 30% of people have created advance directives. In La Crosse, 96% of people who pass away in the city had created advance directives. Because of the high percentage of people who use this program, Respecting Choices will be the model program used in European Union’s study, which will focus on 20 hospitals and study 1,360 patients.
“I think the beauty of this program is that we’ve shown that it can be replicated in many different cultures and different settings and different countries, so the beauty is we get to learn from this research team, whose applying it now to yet another part of the world, so we get to learn as well,” Respecting Choices Associate Director Linda Briggs said.
The European Union team consists of members from six countries—the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Slovenia, and England.
The five-year study, which is referred to as the “Action Project”, will have researchers focus on “first steps” training, which is the beginning of advance care planning. Researchers will also focus on last steps training, which delves deeper into what an illness means to patients—and how they want to live.
Action Project coordinator Dr. Ida Korfage says the original idea for the study stemmed after a discussion with one of her colleagues about improving both palliative care and quality of life.
“There are various options for advance care planning, but we thought this one was the best. It has been described in a study, in a trial, and we thought this is the best thing we would like to work with—the best,” Korfage said.
The European Union doctors and facilitators met for the first time on Sunday as they start their preparation phase. The preparation phase is expected to be completed in one year. It requires translations for Gundersen Health System medical documents, and requires the research team to talk to all hospitals involved in the study, while training facilitators as well.
Dr. Korfage said she hopes to find ways to improve communication between doctors and families, and help improve patient empowerment.
“If they don’t know what their beloved one wants, it is very difficult to decide if suddenly, a decision needs to be made. If you can prepare for it, I think it will make people feel better mentally,” Korfage said.
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