Wisconsin's Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Form

A POLST form describes your wishes for health care in a medical emergency.

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You may have heard about a new kind of health care directive in Wisconsin, 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 may also provide other information about your wishes for end-of-life health care, as explained below.

In Wisconsin, the POLST form is currently available in nursing home, home health, and hospice settings in five counties: LaCrosse, Monroe, Vernon, Richland, and parts of Trempealeau. It is also available in nursing homes in Kenosha. In the future, the form may become available in other parts of the state.

How to Make a POLST Form

A health care professional can help you create a POLST form if you enter a participating health care facility or setting. To be legally valid, the POLST form must be signed by a doctor or nurse practitioner. The POLST form is usually printed on brightly colored 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 Power of Attorney for Health Care.

Taken together, a Living Will and a 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 Power of Attorney for Health Care to provide a full set of wishes about your care.

For details about making health care directives in Wisconsin, see Wisconsin Living Wills and Powers of Attorney for Health Care: What You Need to Know.

For More Information

To learn more about POLST forms, visit www.polst.org. To find out whether the POLST form is available in your region, 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.

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