LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -

One local hospital is gaining global attention this week with a program that other countries are hoping to learn from.

Gundersen Health System launched its end of life care program, Respecting Choices, back in 1993. Since then, hospitals across the country have adopted it.

The Respecting Choices program makes that conversation about end of life care an ongoing one, so that patients and their families have a plan in place long before they end up in a hospital room. 

"It can help patients do good planning and improve the outcome for those patients and their families," said Bud Hammes, Respecting Choices director. "[With planning,] we provide the right care to the patient according to their values and goals, and the family doesn't suffer as much with the enormous decisions, because they're guided by what their loved one wanted."

Respecting Choices has had a big impact here in La Crosse - more than 90 percent of the city's residents die with some sort of plan in place, according to Gundersen officials. Now, it's catching on across oceans.

A group of people representing six European countries - the United Kingdom, Amsterdam, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and Slovania - are at Gundersen this week to learn the ins and outs of Respecting Choices. They're hoping to implement it in their own countries as part of an $8.5 million study on end-of-life patient care - the biggest of its kind in advance care research.

"We're mostly attracted by the fact that it's helping people feel better while they're dying, and it also will help their relatives feel better afterwards," said Ida Korfage, one of the European trainees. "While it is a difficult issue to discuss, [Gundersen] found a way to discuss it respectfully, and it's really impressive."

European representatives training at Gundersen this week will launch the study in six countries involving more than a thousand patients in advanced staged of cancer. The ultimate goal is to someday implement this program, started right here in a little corner of the Midwest, across the entire continent of Europe.