Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)
POLST stands for “Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment.” Oregon originally developed the system for issuing such orders due to the concern that Health Care Directives or other Advance Directives do not adequately address crisis health situations. In a crisis, emergency personnel such as paramedics, EMTs and emergency room doctors might administer every possible life-saving medical treatment to a patient. In states which employ the POLST system, when a person is currently facing a serious illness or condition that could lead to death within a year, the person’s doctor will encourage the patient to consider completing a POLST form expressing the patient’s wishes concerning emergency life-sustaining medical treatment. At the patient’s request, the doctor will issue a standing order directing what kinds of emergency medical treatment should or should not be provided to the patient in the event of an emergency. Emergency personnel are obligated to first follow the order, then contact the patient’s health care provider.
POLST forms are intended to complement but not replace Health Care Directives. A Health Care Directive is still useful and appropriate for addressing the types of non-emergency medical treatment the person would or would not want if future incapacity prevents them from expressing those wishes. A Health Care Directive has the added benefit of enabling a person to nominate someone as his or her health care agent for decision-making purposes. Even a healthy person should consider setting up a Health Care Directive to inform their family and physicians of his or her wishes concerning medical treatment – just in case something should happen which prevents the person from communicating those instructions when needed. A lawyer will recommend that clients prepare a Health Care Directive as part of a complete estate plan.
POLST programs and forms vary from state to state. For more detailed information on the development and implementation of the system throughout the U.S., and use of the form in Minnesota, we encourage you to visit the following websites.*