September 15, 2014
Physicians across California are successfully using Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) to improve patient care at the end of life. Effective October 1, 2014, a new version of POLST makes this tool even more effective.
POLST is a physician order, signed by both doctor and patient, that specifies the types of medical treatment a patient wishes to receive toward the end of life. POLST is a tool that encourages conversation between physicians and patients about medically appropriate end-of-life treatment options. It also helps patients make more informed decisions and communicate their wishes clearly. As a result, POLST can prevent unwanted or medically ineffective treatment, reduce patient and family suffering, and help ensure that patient wishes are followed across treatment settings.
The new version of the POLST form, printed on bright pink paper, will be effective October 1, 2014. Beginning October 1, physicians should only use the new version of the POLST form, though previous versions will continue to be honored.
The new version of the POLST form includes goal statements for each potential treatment option so patients can better understand their choices. The treatment options are also listed more consistently (from most aggressive to least aggressive), so patients can better understand what is involved in their choices.
End of life conversations are never simple, but POLST is a powerful tool for physicians to use to help patients consider the level of care they want and need at the end of life. Thoughtful end-of-life planning can make a patient’s last few weeks, months, or even years far more satisfying.
The California Medical Association has recently updated its POLST Kit, which includes legal forms and wallet identification cards, and answers frequently asked questions about end-of-life issues. Physicians are encouraged to keep a supply of forms in their offices for use when having end-of-life discussions with patients. Updated POLST Kits that include the October 2014 POLST form can be purchased from CMA's online store. Single copies are $5 for members ($6 for nonmembers). Significant discounts are available on bulk purchases. For bulk purchase inquiries, please call CMA Publications at (800) 882-1262.
Other information relevant to the new POLST can be found here, including translations of the form into more than 10 languages. The Coalition for Compassionate Care of California also offers POLST-related educational opportunities. Physicians can also contact their local POLST Coalition, or the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California with any questions about POLST or to arrange a POLST training for their colleagues.