A recent article in the Wall Street Journal shines the light on a new program being instituted by a growing number of states called “Physician-Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment,” or POLST. “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.”
Creating a POLST is an important step toward getting the care and medical treatment you want at a time when you may no longer be able to communicate those wishes to your family or medical staff. As estate planners we know just how important it is to communicate these preferences for health care; in fact, creating an estate plan with our office includes drafting an advance directive called a Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates, in which you specify whether you want certain end of life measures taken and which medical treatments or interventions you would or would not like. We also prepare a Medical Power of Attrorney which is the document in which you nominate a health care agent to make health and medical decisions for you when you are unable to speak for yourself.
Keep in mind that although the POLST is an important step in making your wishes known, the POLST is not intended to replace an advance directive. The POLST programs “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.”
The WSJ article states that “A study supported by the National Institutes of Health last year found that patients with POLST forms were more likely to have treatment preferences documented than patients who used traditional documents such as living wills and do-not-resuscitate orders.“ This comes as no surprise, considering that executing a POLST includes getting the document signed by your doctor, thus ensuring that you doctor is not only aware that you’ve expressed your wishes for end-of-life care, but has also likely had a part in helping you understand exactly what your options are.
Our office recommends that our clients go one step further—give your doctor a copy of your advance directive and related documents. We also recommend sending a copy of your directives and powers of attorney to the person you’ve named as your healthcare agent.
The more informed your doctors and family are about your wishes for end-of-life care, the more likely it is that you will receive the treatment you prefer.