A Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form is a doctors order that helps you keep control over medical care at the end of life. The form tells emergency medical personnel and other health care providers whether or not to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to restart your heart in the event of a medical emergency. It may be used in addition to -- or instead of -- a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.
Like a DNR order, a POLST form must be signed by a doctor. The form may be used in or out of a medical facility. When you enter a hospital or other health care facility, a member of the medical staff may ask whether you want to complete a POLST form. If not, you can ask for one. In California, a POLST form is printed on bright pink paper so it will easily stand out in a patients medical records. A POLST form is broader than a DNR order, which covers only the use of CPR if your heart has stopped. A POLST form includes directions about other life-sustaining measures, 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 Advance Directive. An Advance Directive provides more information than a POLST form, including details about your health care agent, more complete health care wishes, and your preference for organ donation.
The bottom line: If you have a POLST form, you do not need a DNR order, but you should still complete an Advance Directive to provide a full set of wishes about your care. You can view an example of the POLST form here. For more information, or to prepare a POLST form for yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor.