The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) program, designed to improve the quality of end-of-life care, is now available in Illinois.
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 all settings of care and direct doctors to provide or withhold life saving treatment in emergency situations.
For instance, an individual may choose to decline resuscitation efforts, but an individual may choose artificial nutrition.
“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 was made available in Illinois in March 2013.
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. – see more at Life Matters Media