A reflective case study in Family Medicine Advance Care Planning conversations

Advance care planning conversations traditionally have been promoted using the Standard of Substituted Judgment and the Standard of Best Interests. In practice, both are often inadequate. Patients frequently avoid these conversations completely, making substituted judgment decisions nearly impossible. Surrogates are also often unable to make clinical decisions representing the best interests of family members as patients. Many physicians are unskilled at discussing these difficult and complex decisions with surrogates as well. Using an integrative family medicine ethics approach, we present a case study that demonstrates how skillful family physicians might introduce and conduct these conversations at routine office appointments, reconciling ethical theory with both patient-centered and physician-centered considerations in a practical and time-sensitive fashion. We believe 3 physician behaviors will help prepare patients to engage their surrogates and help empower surrogates to serve their role well, if and when that time comes: 1) thinking broadly about clinical issues and ethical considerations; 2) engaging in a mindful and contemporaneous deliberation with the patient—and surrogate when appropriate and possible—about these issues and considerations; and 3) cultivating a reflective responsiveness to these interactions, both when things go well and when they do not.

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