Advance directives up nearly fivefold during pandemic, study finds

The number of people filling out advance directives detailing their medical wishes in case they become seriously ill increased by nearly fivefold during the pandemic, a study published in JAMA Network Open found.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia examined how many people completed advance directives each month on OurCareWishes.org, a free website that guides patients through advance care planning. 

The website had a median of 26 users monthly from Jan. 1, 2019 to Jan. 31, 2020, the date U.S. declared the pandemic a public health emergency. Between February 1 and April 30, the site had a median of 133 monthly users — 4.9 times more than the pre-COVID-19 period. Patients also filled out advance directives more comprehensively after the pandemic began.

"The increased demand for [advanced directive] documentation might be explained by an increased sense of [advance directive] importance owing to COVID-19–induced hospital visitation restrictions, calls for clinicians to promote [advance care planning] or because COVID-19 has provided new motivation for patients who have long wanted to complete [advance directives] but previously failed to do so," researchers concluded.

Researchers noted unmeasured trends also may influence advance care planning trends and that the website is mainly used by patients at one health system, both cited as study limitations.

To view the full study, click here.

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