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Wisconsin Medical Society Launches Honoring Choices Wisconsin

Release Date: September 20, 2012
Contact: Lisa Hildebrand - 608.442.3765 lisa.hildebrand@wismed.org

Madison – The Wisconsin Medical Society today announced the launch of Honoring Choices Wisconsin, a major initiative to build system change, advocacy and education around advance care planning. Through Honoring Choices Wisconsin, the Society will serve as convener, coordinator and catalyst to build clinical pilot projects combined with grassroots community outreach across the state.

With eight participating health systems, Honoring Choices Wisconsin is based on proven concepts, methodologies, training systems and materials. Advance care planning is an organized process of communication to help individuals understand, reflect upon and discuss goals for future health care decisions in the context of their values and beliefs.

“Too often in our health care system, patients do not receive the care they wish for as they approach their last days,” said Tim Bartholow, MD, the Society’s chief medical officer. “Starting a conversation about the end of life is difficult for all of us, whether we are physicians, patients, family members, religious and community leaders or health care professionals. It is, however, imperative that these conversations happen. And once they occur, it is equally critical that patients’ choices are honored by those who care for them.”

Pilot participants will offer facilitated advance care planning conversations to patients under the guidance of Respecting Choices®, a pioneering organization in advance care planning based in La Crosse. The participating health systems have agreed to embrace a common emphasis on improving the conversation across health systems; use patient-tested forms and informational materials in their pilots; share lessons learned formally and informally; and support community outreach. Pilot training is scheduled to begin in September, with implementation beginning in March 2013.

Once clinical improvements are under way, the Society plans proactive community outreach modeled after Honoring Choices Minnesota, a project of the Twin Cities Medical Society. This major grassroots effort aims to reach Wisconsinites through media, multicultural organizations, senior centers, support networks and others avenues.

“Leaders from community, religious, senior and citizen groups will be engaged in this project from the beginning,” Dr. Bartholow said. “It is particularly important to the Society that we reach Wisconsin’s underserved populations.”

With successful completion of the pilots, this model will spread to communities across Wisconsin and serve as a national model for advance care planning. The Society believes that a coordinated effort around advance care planning can result in:

  • Significant improvement in end-of-life care
  • Improved understanding of advance care planning, hospice and palliative care among physicians and other health care professionals
  • Higher advance directive completion rates
  • Greater awareness among all demographics about the importance of advance care planning

“I’m immensely proud of the physicians in this state for taking the lead on giving us permission to discuss how we want to live at the end of life,” said Mike Bernhagen, director of community engagement at Rainbow Hospice Care in Jefferson and co-producer of Consider the Conversation, the award-winning documentary that helped inspire Honoring Choices Wisconsin. “Talking with patients about their wishes at a time when they’re not dying is good preventive medicine. It helps prevent unnecessary physical, emotional, spiritual and social suffering.”

Health systems participating in the pilot include:

  • Community Care, Inc., Milwaukee
  • Dean Health System and St. Mary’s Hospital, Madison
  • Fort HealthCare, Fort Atkinson
  • Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, Madison
  • Meriter Health Services, Madison
  • ProHealth Care, Waukesha
  • UW Health, Madison
  • William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Madison

Other organizations supporting the initiative include Agrace HospiceCare, Madison; Center for Patient Partnerships, Madison; Non-Profit Hospice Collaborative; Rainbow Hospice Care, Jefferson and Johnson Creek; Meriter Foundation, Madison; Respecting Choices, La Crosse; Wisconsin Cancer Control Program; Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living; Wisconsin Health Care Association; Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging; Wisconsin Nurses Association; and Consider the Conversation Co-Producers Mike Bernhagen and Terry Kaldhusdal.


The name “Honoring Choices Wisconsin” is used under license from East Metro Medical Society Foundation.
RESPECTING CHOICES® is a registered mark used under license from Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation, Inc.