Outcomes Research in Review

Group Visits for Discussing Advance Care Planning

Lum HD, Jones J, Matlock DD, et al. Advance care planning meets group medical visits: the feasibility of promoting conversations. Ann Fam Med 2016;14:125–32.



Study Overview

Objective. To describe the feasibility of a primary care–based group visit model focused on advance care planning.

Design. Qualitative study.

Setting and participants. Participants were patients attending the Senior Clinic, a patient-centered medical home at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, CO. Patients had to be aged 65, English speakers, and receiving primary care at the Clinic. Participants could be referred by their primary care clinician, a partner or friend, or self-refer in response to flyers. Clinicians were not asked to prioritize patients with poor health status or known end-of-life needs.

Intervention. Groups of patients met for 2 sessions (1 month apart), each 2 hours in length, facilitated by a geriatrician and a social worker. About 1 hour was spent on discussion of advance care planning concepts, including sharing experiences and considering values. Other time in the session was for introductions/rapport building, individual goal setting, and optional completion or directives and/or individual clinical visits. Facilitators were supported by a Facilitator’s Communication Guide and used educational materials and handouts with the group.

Main outcome measures. Researchers used the Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance (RE-AIM) framework to evaluate the project.

Main results. Patients were referred by 10 out of 11 clinicians. Of 80 patients approached, 32 participated in 5 group visit cohorts (40% participation rate) and 27 participated in both sessions (84% retention rate). Mean age was 79 years; 59% of participants were female and 72% white. Most evaluated the group visit as better than usual clinic visits for discussing advance care planning. Patients reported increases in detailed advance care planning conversations after participating (19% to 41%, P = 0.02). Patients were willing to share personal values and challenges related to advance care planning and they initiated discussions about a broad range of relevant topics.

Conclusion. A group visit to facilitate discussions about advance care planning and increase patient engagement is feasible. This model warrants further evaluation for effectiveness in improving advance care planning outcomes for patients, clinicians, and the system.


An understanding of patients’ care goals is an essential element of high-quality care, allowing clinicians to align the care provided with what is most important to the patient [1]. Existing evidence does not support the commonly held belief that communication about end-of-life issues increases patient distress [1]. Early discussions about goals of care are associated with better quality of life, reduced use of nonbeneficial medical care near death, enhanced goal-consistent care, positive family outcomes, and reduced costs; however, significant barriers to having advance care planning discussions exist [2], including communication issues and lack of appropriate counseling by clinicians in primary care. Clinicians cite limited time and lack of clinic-based support as factors that impede discussions with patients about advance care planning.

New models are being developed in order to facilitate the process. Group medical visits have been recognized as a useful and effective strategy for approaching patients [1]. The current study describes what the authorssay is the first advance care planning group visit, which they named the “Conversation Group Medical Visit” (CGMV). Its aim is to engage patients in a discussion of key advance care planning concepts and support patient-initiated advance care planning actions, such as choosing surrogate decision makers, deciding on preferences during serious illness, discussing preferences with decision makers and health care providers, and documenting advance directives in the electronic health record [3].

As part of the group medical visits, participants receive an agenda, a personal copy of their EHR highlighting current advance care planning documentation, if any, and a blank medical durable power of attorney form. Facilitators use educational materials including videos from the PREPARE website (prepareforyourcare.org) that demonstrate a family’s conversation, advance directives, and various degrees of flexibility in the decision-making role. A Conversation Starter Kit is also used, which prompts individuals to think about their values and guides conversations about preferences.

Researcher used the RE-AIM framework [4] to evaluate the implementation of this group medical visit model. This framework looks at Reach (if older adults would participate in the medical group visits), Effectiveness (related to participant’s engagement in the conversations), the Adoption of the model by health providers (clinician referral patterns), Implementation (related to the attendance of patients at both clinical and group visits and aspects of planning discussed), and Maintenance (not assessed in this study).

There was a 40% participation rate. Reasons given for declining to participate were having participated in past advance care planning conversation or having an existing advance directive (30%), lack of interest (13%), illness (3.3%), lack of transportation (3.3%), and other/unknown (50%). Regarding effectiveness, the majority of patients rated the group visit as better than usual clinic visits for talking about advance care planning. Participants reported that they received useful information and felt comfortable talking about advance care planning in the group. In addition, participants reported finding it helpful to talk with others about advance care planning (92%). Participants also reported an overall increase (19% to 41%) in advance care planning conversations with family members after participating in the group visit (P =0.02). Participants said these conversations included enough details that they felt confident that their family members knew their wishes. Thus, enrollment in a CGMV led to improvements in conversation not only between patient and health care provider but also between family members.

Several themes were identified during discussions. Patients shared personal values and challenges related to advance care planning. Also, the facilitated discussions introduced key advance care planning concepts and encouraged patients to share related experiences, questions, successes, and challenges in regards to these topics. An interesting finding was that patients in groups of 4 or 5 seemed less engaged in the discussion than those in groups of 7 to 9 patients.

Applications for Clinical Practice

This novel strategy to faciliate discussions about advance care planning showed promising results and appears feasible, but further study is needed to evaluate the model. It may prove useful as a new model of advance care planning in primary care. Further longitudinal research is encouraged.

—Paloma Cesar de Sales, BS, RN, MS

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