How POLST Forms Clarify Wishes

How POLST Forms Clarify Wishes

Posted on Monday, December 10th, 2012 at 2:39 pm by Life Matters Media

The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) program, designed to improve end of life care in Illinois, is on its way to implementation. Health care professionals met at Rush University Medical Center this week to discuss the form’s development and strategies for raising public awareness.

Julie Goldstein, M.D., a clinical ethicist and palliative care physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, provided the audience with hypothetical scenarios the POLST program form could remedy.

POLST program forms are more detailed than conventional living wills or other advance directives. They allow people to indicate preferences regarding resuscitation, intubation, intravenous antibiotics and feeding tubes. Such forms are intended for people who are likely in their last year of life.  They can follow patients across in-state care settings and direct doctors to provide or withhold life-sustaining treatment in emergency situations.

The forms aim to more quickly direct doctors to a person’s wishes and eliminate confusion about what patients would want in the case that they are medically incapacitated and unable to communicate their wishes.  The forms provide instructions in the case of a cardiopulmonary arrest (the person has no pulse and is not breathing), the degree of medical intervention they would want in a pre-arrest situation (the person has a pulse and/or is breathing), and whether or not they would want artificial nutrition if their medical illness prevented them from taking in adequate oral nutrition.

How a POLST form could help

A 67-year-old man is sent to the emergency room with chest pain and shortness of breath. He is also confused. The cardiologist says that a cardiac catheterization with angiogram and a stent are needed. The nurse tells the physician that there is a DNR order on his chart. Should the physician send the patient for an angiogram? It’s not clear. 

If that patient had a POLST form that indicates DNR in case of full cardiac arrest but an order for full treatment in a pre-arrest emergency, the physician would immediately know what to do. The patient would be sent for the angiogram.

An 85-year-old man is admitted to the emergency room with severe pneumonia. He’s hypoxic, confused and refusing the ventilator. There is a DNR order on the charts. The physician feels that DNR doesn’t apply to this potentially reversible condition but the nurses disagree. He receives full resuscitation. 

If that same patient had a POLST form indicating no CPR in the case of arrest and a preference for comfort care, the physician and nurses would have clear instructions.  He would not have undergone full resuscitation, but would have been maintained in comfort with noninvasive maneuvers.  .

A 59-year-old woman who is being treated for breast cancer is admitted to the emergency room for sepsis. She is transferred to intensive care and receives oxygen and maximum vasopressors. She has a DNR order on the charts. The staff are concerned that they are violating her wishes.

If she had a POLST form indicating no CPR in the case of arrest but limited interventions in addition to comfort measures, the staff may feel more comfortable treating her as they are doing and spend less time deliberating.

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POLST Illinois Moves Forward

Posted on Friday, December 7th, 2012 at 7:35 pm by Life Matters Media

The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) program, designed to improve the quality of end of life care, is on its way to Illinois. Health care professionals met at Rush University Medical Center Thursday to discuss the form’s development and strategies for raising public awareness.

Sample POLST

The Chicago End-of-Life Care Coalition sponsored the discussion led by Julie Goldstein, M.D., a clinical ethicist and palliative care physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

POLST program forms are more detailed than conventional living wills or other advance directives. They allow patients to indicate preferences regarding resuscitation, intubation, intravenous antibiotics and feeding tubes. Such forms are intended for patients in their last year of life, and they can follow patients across in-state care settings and direct doctors to provide or withhold life saving treatment in emergency situations.

For instance, an individual may choose to decline resuscitation efforts, but of for artificial nutrition. An individual may choose artificial nutrition with set limits or permanent placement.

Goldstein answering audience questions

“POLST improves on the existing uniform DNR form,” said Goldstein. “POLSTs are medical orders and have to be followed by all medical care providers.” To be valid, a POLST form must be signed by an attending physician.

Loretta Downs, president of the CECC, told LMM that POLST is essentially about enhancing personal liberty at end of life. “For Illinois, accepting the POLST form is a statement encouraging people to take advantage of their liberty regarding end of life decisions. It empowers the individual to make a clear statement about whether or not he or she wants end of life care and what level of treatments.”

The POLST form will be available in early 2013, a version of the IDPH DNR Uniform Advance Directive. Goldstein said it will be most similar to the California POLST. The final form awaits approval from state health officials and it may be “ultra pink.”

Many in attendance left hopeful that the form would help their patients. Kriston Kurelic, a social worker at Passages Hospice, says she is excited about the form’s implementation. “I’m very interested in the changes that will happen,” Kurelic said. “It will be very beneficial to long-term care. It will be beneficial to patients and families.”

Christine Nelson, director of nursing at Manor Care, agrees. “I think anything that helps us assess what people’s wishes are more clearly is helpful,” she said. “The only barrier I see is time being taken to explain the form to patients.”

The task of educating patients will likely fall on individual health care providers. Because it is a physician order, it is intended to be accompanied by a meaningful doctor-patient dialogue. Carol Blendowski, a Rainbow Hospice nurse practitioner, says time is what is required to have such conversations, but thinks patients will ultimately find the POLST easy to navigate. “I can see clearly now,” she said. “This form is user friendly.”

POLST was developed in Oregon in the 1990s, and now 15 states have POLST programs. Twenty-eight states are considering the use of POLST forms.