BACKGROUND: Advance care planning (ACP), a process of communication about patients' preferences for future medical care, should be initiated in a timely manner. Ideally situated for this initiation is the general practitioner (GP). The intervention to improve the initiation of ACP for patients with a chronic life-limiting illness in general practice (ACP-GP) includes an ACP workbook for patients, ACP communication training for GPs, planned ACP conversations, and documentation of ACP conversation outcomes in a structured template. We present the study protocol of a Phase-III randomized controlled trial (RCT) of ACP-GP that aims to evaluate its effects on outcomes at the GP, patient, and surrogate decision maker (SDM) levels; and to assess the implementation process of the intervention.
METHODS: This RCT will take place in Flanders, Belgium. Thirty-six GPs, 108 patients with a chronic, life-limiting illness, and their (potential) SDM will be recruited, then cluster-randomized to the ACP-GP intervention or the control condition. The primary outcome for GPs is ACP self-efficacy; primary outcome for patients is level of ACP engagement. Secondary outcomes for GPs are ACP practices, knowledge and attitudes; and documentation of ACP discussion outcomes. Secondary outcomes for patients are quality of life; anxiety; depression; appointment of an SDM; completion of new ACP documents; thinking about ACP; and communication with the GP. The secondary outcome for the SDM is level of engagement with ACP. A process evaluation will assess the recruitment and implementation of the intervention using the RE-AIM framework.
DISCUSSION: While the general practice setting holds promise for timely initiation of ACP, there is a lack of randomized trial studies evaluating the effectiveness of ACP interventions implemented in this setting. After this Phase-III RCT, we will be able to present valuable evidence of the effects of this ACP-GP intervention, with the potential for offering a well-tested and evaluated program to be implemented in general practice. The results of the process evaluation will provide insight into what contributes to or detracts from implementation success, as well as how the intervention can be adapted to specific contexts or needs.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: Prospectively registered at with ISRCTN ( ISRCTN12995230 ); registered 19/06/2020.