The bedside capacity assessment tool: Further development of a clinical tool to assist with a growing aging population with increased healthcare complexities

Publication Date


Journal Title

J Clin Ethics


© 2018 by The Journal of Clinical Ethics. All rights reserved. Background: As the population of the United States ages, chronic diseases increase and treatment options become technologically more complicated. As such, patients' autonomy, or the right of patients to accept or refuse a medical treatment, may become a more pressing and complicated issue. This autonomy rests upon a patient's capacity to make a decision. As more older, cognitively and functionally impaired individuals enter healthcare systems, quality assessments of decision-making capacity must be made. These assessments should be done in a time-efficient manner at a patient's bedside by the patient's own physician. Thus, a clinically practical tool to assist in decision-making capacity assessments could help guide physicians in making more accurate judgments. Objectives: To create a clinically relevant Bedside Capacity Assessment Tool (BCAT) to help physicians make timely and accurate clinical assessments of a patient's decision-making capacity for a specific decision. Setting: The Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. Participants: Geriatric medicine fellows, palliative medicine fellows, and internal medicine residents (n = 30). Measurements: Subjects used the BCAT to assess the decision-making capacity of patients described in 10 written, clinically complex capacity assessment vignettes. Subjects' conclusions were compared to those of experts. Results: The subjects' and experts' assessments of capacity had a 76.1 percent rate of agreement, with a range of 50 percent to 100 percent. With removal of three complex outlier vignettes, the agreement rate reached 83.2 percent. Conclusion: The strong correlation between the two groups-one of physicians in training utilizing the BCAT and the other of specialists in this area-suggests that the BCAT may be a useful adjunct for clinicians who assess decision-making capacity in routine practice. The range indicates that further refinement and testing of this tool is necessary. The potential exists for this tool to improve capacity assessment skills for physicians in clinical practice.

Volume Number


Issue Number



43 - 51

Document Type



Faculty; Northwell Researcher


School of Medicine; Northwell Health

Primary Department

Geriatric and Palliative Medicine



For the public and Northwell Health campuses