Background: Few interventions have focused on improving end-of-life care for underserved populations, such as homeless persons.
Objective: To determine whether homeless persons will complete a counseling session on advance care planning and fill out a legal advance directive designed to assess care preferences and preserve the dignity of marginalized persons.
Design: Prospective, single-blind, randomized trial comparing self-guided completion of an advance directive with professionally assisted advance care planning. (ClinicalTrials.gov registration number: NCT00546884)
Setting: 8 sites serving homeless persons in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Participants: 262 homeless persons recruited between November 2007 and August 2008.
Intervention: Minimal, self-guided intervention consisting of advance directive forms and written educational information versus a one-on-one advance planning intervention consisting of counseling and completing an advance directive with a social worker.
Measurements: Rate of advance directive completion, assessed by inspection of completed documents.
Results: The overall completion rate for advance directives was 26.7% (95% CI, 21.5% to 32.5%), with a higher rate in the counselor-guided group (37.9%) than in the self-guided group (12.8%) (CI of adjusted difference, 15.3 to 34.3 percentage points). This difference persisted across all sites and most subgroups. The advance directive's 4 clinical scenarios found a preference for surrogate decision making in 29% to 34% of written responses.
Limitations: Sampling was limited to a more stable subset of the homeless population in Minneapolis and may have been subject to selection bias. Modest compensation to complete the preintervention survey could have influenced participants to complete advance directives.
Conclusion: Both a simple and complex intervention successfully engaged a diverse sample of homeless persons in advance care planning. One-on-one assistance significantly increased the completion rate. Homeless persons can respond to an intervention to plan for end-of-life care and can express specific preferences for care or a surrogate decision maker, but additional studies are needed to assess the effect of these directives on subsequent care.
Primary Funding Source: National Institute for Nursing Research and National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities.