“The Illinois POLST form is a step in the right direction,” said Mary F. Mulcahy, a co-founder of Life Matters Media and practicing oncologist at Northwestern University, while lecturing physicians about the form Thursday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
In March, the Illinois POLST form was released to the public, an effort headed by the POLST Paradigm and the Chicago End-of-Life Care Coalition. This update to the Illinois DNR advance directive aims to improve the quality of life for patients at end of life.
POLSTs, Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment, are more detailed than conventional living wills and advance directives. These forms give patients the freedom 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 state care settings and direct doctors to provide or withhold lifesaving treatments.
The form should be adjusted over time to fit each patient’s prognosis. “This is not a one-time thing, as patients progress the form can change,” Mulcahy said. “There should be shared decision-making between physicians and patients.” To be valid, the form must be signed by the attending physician.
In the U.S., the average patient visits the hospital more than 30 times and meets nine different physicians during the last six months of life. These patients could benefit from having their medical wishes written down and on hand; the convenience helps cut through the chaos and confusion prevalent in care settings.
POLST was developed in Oregon in the 1990s, and now 14 states have POLST programs. Twenty-eight states are considering the use of such forms.
“Hopefully this form will change the culture and get people talking and preparing for the end of life,” Mulcahy said.
Palliative care expert Andrew Thurston, M.D., agreed. “I think this is great. My hope for the POLST form is that it will clarify patients’ wishes for their end of life care, and that it helps doctors more effectively communicate with their patients,” said Thurston. “We need more open discussion, and with easier language, this form helps.”