Thursday, November 18, 2010

PA Health Department Posts New POLST Form

On November 16, 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Health posted on its website a new standard form for Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), revised 10/14/10. 

The form was listed under the website's Quick Links, but does not appear to be the subject of any press releases or further highlighted bulletins.

The concept and implementation of physician-ordered life-sustaining treatment orders is discussed in detail on the national website of that movement -- -- which maintains this paradigm:
The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Paradigm program is designed to improve the quality of care people receive at the end of life. It is based on effective communication of patient wishes, documentation of medical orders on a brightly colored form and a promise by health care professionals to honor these wishes.* * * 
Effective communication between the patient or legally designated decision-maker and health care professionals ensures decisions are sound and based on the patient’s understanding their medical condition, their prognosis, the benefits and burdens of the life-sustaining treatment and their personal goals for care.
The state-by-state implementation map on that website now needs a change.  Pennsylvania should shift from the color grey (no program), to red (endorsed programs).

The Pennsylvania POLST form is explained generally by the Explanation that accompanies it:
Pennsylvania – Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is a medical order that gives patients more control over their end-of-life care. The POLST form specifies the types of medical treatment that a patient wishes to receive towards the end of life.
These medical orders are signed by both a patient’s physician, physician’s assistant, or certified registered nurse practitioner and the patient or the patient’s surrogate.
Completion of a POLST form is only a small step in the process of a patient’s decision-making, and it is critical that this form be used as part of a program for end of life decisions that includes educational support and other aspects of planning for providers and patients.

This form was developed by the Pa. Department of Health’s Patient Life Sustaining Wishes Committee and was designed to be consistent with Pennsylvania law. There are significant advantages to using a form that contains standardized language and is produced in a distinctive and easily recognizable format. 

In order to maintain continuity throughout Pennsylvania, please follow these printing instructions: 
*** Print POLST form on 110# Pulsar Pink card stock. ***
See additional instructions on the POLST form related to completing and using the form.

As additional educational materials are developed for the POLST form and for POLST programs in Pennsylvania, they will be added to this introduction.
In recent years, the Department of Health has actively addressed end-of-life issues affecting Pennsylvanians through study groups and reports.  See:
A new POLST form for Pennsylvania was contemplated by the most recent study report, End-of-Life Care in Pennsylvania -- Final Report (2007; PDF, 121 pages), which attached as Appendix "F" the POLST form used in Oregon, which has become standardized nationwide.

The new Pennsylvania POLST form is virtually identical, except for layout and explanations, to the sample form contained in the 2007 Final Report.

Administrative issuance of a POLST form for Pennsylvania was authorized by Act No. 169 of 2006, effective January 29, 2007 (replacement Chapter 54 in the PA Probate, Estates & Fiduciaries Code), pursuant to its Section 5548.

End-of-life decision making is a difficult, emotional subject.  On November 8, 2010, an article entitled Facing death: Questions to consider when making medical decisions, by John Luciew, was posted by the Patriot News (Harrisburg, PA).  He addressed this topic using source material from the Pennsylvania Medical Society's Family Health & Wellness website, which had not yet referenced the pending POLST form.
The law and medical privacy rules consider friends and non-married companions less than “real” family.
In order to involve them in one’s own medical decisions, specific legal declarations must be made. These are known as advance health care directives, or simply, advanced directives.
There are two main types: a health care power of attorney and a living will. Most people should consider having both. * * * 
Here are some questions to consider when making advance directives:
  • Who would you trust to follow your wishes? Who can make tough choices? Who is willing and able to serve as your health care agent?
  • How you would like to be cared for if you can no longer speak for yourself? What life-sustaining treatment and other care you would want at the end of your life?
  • What personal wishes and values do you want your health care agent to consider when making decisions about your care?
Perhaps it is the emotional aspects that explain the Department's low-key implementation of the fairly standardized POLST form in Pennsylvania.

Now there is another mechanism through which such medical treatment preferences and directions can be memorialized and then  implemented in Pennsylvania.  It will change the way end-of-life decision making will be conducted.

Updated: 11/19/10:

My friend, Attorney Robert B. Wolf, of Pittsburgh, PA, noted my posting in one of his P&T Hot Tip Emails, which was reposted online by Smithfield Trust Company.

Bob served on the group that prepared the new PA POLST form:
I was privileged to serve on the Patient Life Sustaining Wishes Committee, and to work with leaders in Pennsylvania, such as Dr. Judy Black and Marian Kemp of Highmark and David Barnard, of the University of Pittsburgh in this effort.
He advised further:  "We are currently working on educational materials for healthcare providers, and after that for patients and families."

For a comprehensive list of currently-available POLST resources, see: Resources: Pennsylvania Physician Ordered Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), posted by the University of Pittsburgh's Institute on Aging.