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Critical Care physician and researcher launches online tool to help families plan ahead for serious illness, like COVID-19 pneumonia

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

(April 2020) In the context of COVID-19 pandemic, Queen’s University professor and researcher, Daren Heyland has a launched an online tool called the Plan Well Guide, as a means of helping people make decisions in advance of serious illness, such as COVID-19 pneumonia. Earlier research by Dr. Heyland determined people were not ready to engage in clinical decision making with doctors when they were seriously ill.  Furthermore, doctors are also not fully engaging their patients in this communication and decision-making process because they sense this unpreparedness is a major barrier. Consequently, when people become seriously ill, many medical errors are committed, patients may receive the ‘wrong’ care, and family members called in to help make decisions experience considerable stress.

Experts often recommend that people make Advance Care Plans (ACP), which are traditionally focused on end-of-life or terminal care plans. These are often not suitable for making decisions related to serious illness, such as COVID-19 pneumonia.

To improve the overall quality of decision-making and increase the likelihood that patients get the medical care that is right for them during serious illness, Dr. Heyland developed an online tool. The goal behind the Plan Well Guide is to help prepare people to make decisions with doctors when seriously ill by helping them learn about medical treatments and by helping communicate important values and preferences. 

The novel decision support tool was evaluated in a randomized trial involving over 120 patients and three primary care practice settings and was shown to improve decisional quality and reduce the amount time required by the physicians. Both physicians and patients were very satisfied with Plan Well Guide and its impact on decision-making.

The research was published in CMAJ Open.


“Most often when you are seriously ill, doctors will call upon your loved ones (family members) to help them make important life or death decisions on your behalf. They find this involvement very stressful. To reduce this stress, some people might have an ACP in place but planning for death under conditions of certainty (like when you have end-stage cancer) is not the same as planning for serious illnesses with uncertain outcomes (like COVID-19 pneumonia).”

- Daren Heyland, Director, Clinical Research Evaluation Unit, Queen’s University


Plan Well Guide


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