You may have heard about a new kind of health care directive in Washington, called a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form. Here, we discuss what a POLST form is and when you might need one.
What Is a POLST Form?
A POLST form is a doctor’s order that helps you keep control over medical care at the end of life. Like a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, the form tells emergency medical personnel and other health care providers whether or not to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the event of a medical emergency. The POLST form has largely replaced other DNR forms in Washington, though older DNR forms will still be honored. The POLST form may also provide other information about your wishes for end-of-life health care, as explained below.
How to Make a POLST Form
A health care professional can help you create a POLST form if you enter a medical facility or health care setting -- such as a hospital, nursing home, or hospice care in a facility or at home. To be legally valid, the POLST form must be signed by a qualified health care provider, such as a doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. If a member of the medical staff does not ask you whether you want to create a POLST form, you may ask for one.
In Washington, a POLST form is printed on bright green paper so it will easily stand out in your medical records. The form travels with you if you move from one health care setting to another. You can change it or cancel it at any time.
How Does a POLST Form Differ From Other Health Care Directives?
A POLST form differs from a DNR order in one important way: A POLST form also includes directions about life-sustaining measures in addition to CPR, such as intubation, antibiotic use, and feeding tubes. The POLST form helps medical providers understand your wishes at a glance, but it is not a substitute for a properly prepared Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
Taken together, a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care provide more information than a POLST form, including details about your health care agent, more complete health care wishes, and your preference for organ donation. Therefore, if you have a POLST form, you do not need a DNR order, but you should still complete a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care to provide a full set of wishes about your care.
For details about making health care directives in Washington, see Washington Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care: What You Need to Know.
For More Information
To learn more, and to view an example of the Washington POLST form, visit the website of the Washington State Medical Association. To prepare a POLST form for yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor.
For general information about how to document your health care wishes, see the Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney section of Nolo.com.