Frequency of Preoperative Advance Care Planning for Older Adults Undergoing High-risk Surgery: A Secondary Analysis of a Randomized Clinical Trial

Elle Kalbfell, Anna Kata, Anne S. Buffington, Nicholas Marka, Karen J. Brasel, Anne C. Mosenthal, Zara Cooper, Emily Finlayson, Margaret L. Schwarze

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Importance: For patients facing major surgery, surgeons believe preoperative advance care planning (ACP) is valuable and routinely performed. How often preoperative ACP occurs is unknown. Objective: To quantify the frequency of preoperative ACP discussion and documentation for older adults undergoing major surgery. Design, Setting, and Participants: This secondary analysis of data from a multisite randomized clinical trial testing the effects of a question prompt list intervention on preoperative communication for older adults considering major surgery was performed at 5 US academic medical centers. Participants included surgeons who routinely perform high-risk surgery and patients 60 years or older with at least 1 comorbidity and an oncological or vascular (cardiac, peripheral, or neurovascular) problem. Data were collected from June 1, 2016, to November 30, 2018. Interventions: Patients received a question prompt list brochure with 11 questions that they might ask their surgeon. Main Outcomes and Measures: For patients who had major surgery, any statement related to ACP from the surgeon, patient, or family member during the audiorecorded preoperative consultation was counted. The presence of a written advance directive (AD) in the medical record at the time of the initial consultation or added preoperatively was recorded. Open-ended interviews with patients who experienced postoperative complications and family members were conducted. Results: Among preoperative consultations with 213 patients (122 men [57%]; mean [SD] age, 72 [7] years), only 13 conversations had any discussion of ACP. In this cohort of older patients with at least 1 comorbid condition, 141 (66%) did not have an AD on file before major surgery; there was no significant association between the presence of an AD and patient age (60-69 years, 26 [31%]; 70-79 years, 31 [33%]; ≥80 years, 15 [42%]; P =.55), number of comorbidities (1, 35 [32%]; 2, 18 [33%]; ≥3, 19 [40%]; P =.62), or type of procedure (oncological, 53 [32%]; vascular, 19 [42%]; P =.22). There was no difference in preoperative communication about ACP or documentation of an AD for patients who were mailed a question prompt list brochure (intervention, 38 [35%]; usual care, 34 [33%]; P =.77). Patients with complications were enthusiastic about ACP but did not think it was important to discuss their preferences for life-sustaining treatments with their surgeon preoperatively. Conclusions and Relevance: Although surgeons believe that preoperative discussion of patient preferences for postoperative life-sustaining treatments is important, these preferences are infrequently explored, addressed, or documented preoperatively. Trial Registration: Identifier: NCT02623335.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJAMA Surgery
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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