Published by Susan K. Livio on NJ.com
TRENTON – Nearly two-thirds of New Jersey residents say they have thought about the kind of medical treatment they want at the end of their lives and discussed their wishes with a loved one or doctor, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released on Thursday.
But just as many New Jerseyans have avoided taking steps that would make their wishes binding, such as writing a living will or an advanced directive, the poll found.
The aim of the poll — timed with “National Healthcare Decisions Day” on Saturday — is to educate people who may be unaware of their options when recovery from an illness or injury is unlikely, or too intimidated to research them.
“People care and think about end-of-life plans, but they are not taking action and are mostly unaware of what opportunities are available,” said Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute which helped craft the polling questions.
“This issue is critical to New Jersey, a state where people are more likely to die in a health care facility and less likely to use hospice services than residents of almost any other state,” Schwimmer said. “New Jersey has among the highest use of medical interventions in the last six months of life.”
Nearly two-thirds of New Jerseyans have discussed their wishes for end-of-life medical care, but fewer than half said they have made any formal plans, according to a poll released today by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute
Rutgers polled 886 adults April 1-8. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Not surprisingly, senior citizens were the mostly likely to have committed their end-of-life plans to writing, at 65 percent. Just under 50 percent of 50-to-64 year olds, 26 percent of 30-to-49 years old, and 17 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds had taken that step.
Women, caucasians and better educated and affluent people had the most knowledge about the kinds of care and legal options that were available, according to the poll.
“We find a lot of demographic disparities beyond the obvious factor of age when it comes to end-of-life care preparation and awareness,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers. “Women are typically the caretakers of their elders, those who are married may be sharing plans with their spouse, and residents of higher socioeconomic status may have better access to information and care.”
More than three-quarters of those polled said they were familiar with hospice care, which relies on pain relief and symptom management typically at home instead of trying to cure the disease.
About half said they were familiar with the New Jersey State Advance Directive, a legal document that spells out patients’ preferences for treatments should they become unable to make their own healthcare decisions.
But only 24 percent said they were familiar with the advance directive known as “Five Wishes,” a document accepted in 42 states including New Jersey.
The document allows the patient to identify a person in charge of health care decisions, acceptable and unacceptable types of medical care, how the patient wants to be made comfortable, and funeral arrangements and other things “I want my moved ones to know.”
Slightly more people, 27 percent, were familiar with the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment form, also known as POLST. Signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011, POLST forms are signed by a patient and doctor and specify which life-sustaining treatments are acceptable.
Two years ago, Monmouth University Polling Institute conducted a similar poll with the N.J. Health Care Quality Institute and the findings were basically the same.