Advance directives: the views of health care professionals.
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OBJECTIVES: This study examined the views and experiences of 20 physicians and 20 nurses at a major Canadian teaching hospital regarding the use of advance directives in clinical care. DESIGN: The participants were purposively drawn from four clinical specialties: family and community medicine, oncology, intensive care and geriatrics. Detailed interviews were conducted in person. Content analysis was used to code the data, which were further analysed with both quantitative and qualitative techniques. MAIN RESULTS: Thirty-nine of the 40 participants favoured the use of advance directives in clinical care; physicians had somewhat less positive attitudes than nurses toward such directives. Advance directives were thought by participants to be helpful in resolving disagreements between patients and their families about treatment options; in making patients more comfortable, both physically and psychologically, during the process of dying; and in opening up communication and trust among patients, their families and health care professionals. Concerns about the use of advance directives focused on the lack of clarity in some patients' instructions, the absence of legal status for directives, the possible interference with a practitioner's clinical judgement, the adequacy and appropriateness of patients' information about their circumstances, and the type of intervention (passive or active) requested by patients. CONCLUSIONS: New regulations and legislation are making the use of advance directives more widespread. Health care professionals should participate in the development and implementation of these directives. Continuing professional education is essential in this regard.