A higher percentage of West Virginians have filled out advance directives than residents of any other state, a testament to work being done by the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care. In addition, hospital palliative care teams served a record number of residents last year, and more deaths are occurring in the settings people consistently say they prefer.
The data, which also show a dramatic increase in the name recognition of the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care, come from a survey that has tracked many of the same questions over the decade since the center was created by the Legislature. The center, which is based in Morgantown but works statewide, receives the majority of its funding and works closely on excellent programs with the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
Dr. Alvin Moss, director of the Center for End-of-Life Care, points out that scientific surveys conducted since 2000 consistently show that three-quarters of West Virginians prefer to live a shorter time to avoid pain, suffering, and being kept alive as long as possible with machines. Advance directives such as living wills and medical powers of attorney and medical orders, the West Virginia do-not-resuscitate (DNR) card or the West Virginia Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (POST) form, help them make those choices for themselves.
According to this year's survey, 50 percent of West Virginia residents have a living will, a medical power of attorney, or both (38 percent). That represents a significant increase over 2010, when 40 percent of respondents had at least one, and 28 percent had both (the margin of error on the surveys was plus or minus 4 percentage points).
A living will allows people to outline the medical treatments they would want if terminally ill or permanently unconscious and unable to speak for themselves. A medical power of attorney identifies who should speak for that person if the person is unable to make decisions and the needed decisions are not covered by the living will if the person completed one.
People with serious medical conditions should discuss a POST form with their physician. The form includes more specific information for those who may be facing life-threatening situations in the coming year.
West Virginia has created a secure online database to ensure medical providers across the state have access to advance directives and medical orders in a medical emergency. The West Virginia e-Directive Registry has received more than 20,000 advance directive and medical order forms in the database, and health-care providers are signing up every week to be part of the West Virginia Health Information Network in which the registry is located. For more information about the center or the e-Directive Registry, call 1-877-209-8086 or visit wvendoflife.org.
Stevens is president of Government Relations Specialists, a Charleston health consulting firm specializing in hospital and medical services, Stevens...@aol.com.