Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

What is POLST and e-POLST?

The POLST form (Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment) is a medical order, like a prescription for medication that must be prepared by a licensed health care provider. He or she must work directly with the patient or a surrogate decision maker to fill it out.

Unlike some other forms, a POLST is easily transferrable between the doctor that fills it out and any other doctor that is treating you. Also unlike some other forms, a POLST goes into effect as soon as it is signed.

A POLST is most helpful to people who:

  • Have a serious or advanced illness such as cancer, COPD, or heart, liver, or kidney failure
  • Have specific preferences about specific types of care that may be provided at the end of life, such as CPR, a feeding tube, or a mechanical ventilator
  • Want a DNR order when living outside of a licensed healthcare facility

The preferences you indicate on the POLST form can be changed at any time by filling out a new form.

There is now an electronic system for POLST, called e-POLST, which is easier to access for healthcare providers and EMS (Emergency Medical Services). For most people, e-POLST functions exactly the same as POLST.

If you think the POLST would help you achieve your end-of-life care wishes, talk to your doctor. For many people, Advance Directives may be a more appropriate choice.

Adapted from Utah Commission on Aging Tool Kit for Advance Healthcare Planning (2012).

What's the difference between Advance Directives and POLST?

Advance Directives vs. POLST
Advance DirectivesPOLST
For anyone 18 and older For persons with serious illness and/or limited life expectancy at any age
Instructions for FUTURE treatment Medical orders for CURRENT treatment
Does not guide Emergency Medical Personnel Guides actions by Emergency Medical Personnel
Guides inpatient treatment decisions Guides inpatient treatment decisions
  Only legal mechanism for a Utahn to have a Do Not Attempt Resuscitation- DNR order outside of a licensed health care facility

Adapted from POLST Paradigm.