You may have heard about a new kind of health care directive in Georgia, called a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form. Here, we discuss what a POLST form is and when you might need one.
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. A POLST form may be used in addition to -- or instead of -- a DNR order. The POLST form may also provide other information about your wishes for end-of-life health care, as explained below.
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 A POLST form must be signed by a doctor. (Georgia Statutes Section 31-1-14(c).) 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 addition to the doctor's signature, you or your legally appointed health care decisionmaker must sign the MOST form.
In Georgia, a 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.
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 advance directive for health care. An advance directive for health care 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.
You need to consider a POLST only if you're facing a life-threatening medical condition. If you're healthy, you need only an advance directive for health care to provide a full set of wishes for your treatment in the event of an unexpected accident or medical crisis.
On the other hand, a patient diagnosed with a terminal illness or frailty that requires care in a medical setting -- or ongoing care at home -- may need a POLST in addition to traditional health care directives. That's because an advance directive may not be enough to prevent medical personnel from resuscitating a patient in an emergency. For that, it's important to have a medical order such as a POLST or DNR order. If you feel strongly that you don't want emergency measures at the end of life -- or if you're caring for someone who feels that way -- find out about making a POLST in addition to an advance directive.
For details about making health care directives, see Georgia Living Wills and Advance Directives for Health Care: What You Need to Know.
To learn more about the Georgia POLST form and to view a sample POLST, visit the website of the Georgia Department of Public Health.
For general information about how to document your health care wishes, see the Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney section of Nolo.com.