POLST Overview

POLST stands for “Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment”.  A POLST form is a signed medical order that travels with the patient to assure that a patient’s treatment preferences are honored across settings of care.

The POLST form is designed to ensure that seriously ill or frail patients can choose the treatments they want or do not want and that their wishes are documented and honored. 

  • Unless it is the patient’s preference, use of the POLST form to limit treatment is not appropriate for patients with chronic, stable medical or functionally disabling problems who have many years of life expectancy.

POLST is designed to:

  • Help healthcare professionals know and honor the life-sustaining treatment wishes of their patients.
  • Promote patient autonomy by creating medical orders that reflect the patient’s treatment preferences.
  • Facilitate appropriate treatment by emergency medicine and EMS personnel.

Healthcare professionals and providers are required by law to honor treatment choices shown on a POLST, and are protected from liability if they do so in good faith.  Use of the POLST form is voluntary.

This form contains orders that can be revoked or changed at any time by patients or their legal representative. When a patient’s condition changes significantly, prior decisions about treatment should be revisited and consideration should be given to completing a new, updated POLST form.

The POLST form is intended to be completed after patients and their health care professionals/providers discuss together: the patient’s current medical condition(s) and prognosis; possible causes of deterioration and indicated medical responses/treatments; the risks, burdens and benefits of those treatments; and the patient’s own values and goals for treatment. The discussions are of primary importance to the POLST process as the form serves as a potential guide for these discussions. Completed forms are a product of the discussions and are signed by the patient or legal representative, an attending physician, and a witness. The completed form is an actionable medical order.

POLST Summary and Talking Points