You may have heard about a new kind of health care directive in Florida, called a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form. Here, we discuss what a POLST form is and how Florida residents may soon be able to benefit from it.
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 is also designed to provide other information about your wishes for end-of-life health care, as explained next.
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 tubes for breathing or for receiving nutrition and hydration. A POLST form can be an important tool to help medical providers understand your wishes at a glance, but it is not a substitute for properly prepared living will and designation of health care surrogate.
Taken together, a living will and designation of health care surrogate provide more information than a POLST form, including details about your health care surrogate (sometimes called your "agent") and a more complete set of health care wishes. Therefore, if you make a POLST form, you do not need a DNR order, but you should still complete traditional health care directives to provide comprehensive instructions about your care.
For details about preparing health care directives, see Florida Living Wills and Designations of Health Care Surrogates: What You Need to Know.
POLST forms are now available in most of the states in the U.S. Florida does not currently have a statewide POLST program, but the form is under development and available in a limited number of health care settings, including the University of Miami Health System.
If you are facing a serious illness and are interested in a POLST form, you should talk with your doctor or ask about it when you enter a medical facility or health care setting. If the form is available in your area, a medical professional will help you complete the POLST. The form is legally valid only if signed by a doctor and you (or your legally appointed health care surrogate). The POLST will be placed in your medical record and will travel with you if you move from one health care setting to another. You can change or cancel the POLST at any time, as long as you are capable of communicating your wishes.
To learn more about Florida's POLST program and to view a sample Florida POLST form, visit the website of the Center for Innovative Collaboration in Medicine & Law at the Florida State University College of Medicine.
For general information about how to document your health care wishes, see the Living Wills & Medical Power of Attorney section of Nolo.com.