New efforts to simplify end-of-life care

The Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2011
Advance directives, which allow people to plan ahead for end-of-life care, can be too vague to cover many medical situations. Now, a growing number of states are promoting another program to help guide physicians with a patient's specific instructions.The programs are known as Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or Polst. They are meant to complement advance directives, sometimes known as living wills, in which people state in broad terms how much medical intervention they will want when their condition no longer allows them to communicate. A Polst, which is signed by both the patient and the doctor, spells out such choices as whether a patient wants to be on a mechanical breathing machine or feeding tube and receive antibiotics. Polst programs are currently in use in 14 states and regions, including California, Oregon and New York. Three states, Colorado, Idaho and Pennsylvania, adopted Polst programs recently, and another 16 states and six regions are developing programs. Besides providing documents that meet local regulations, the programs train healthcare providers to discuss end-of-life treatment choices with patients with terminal illness or anyone wishing to define their care preferences.

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