January 2009 Volume 33 No. 1
New law translates end-of-life choices into physician orders

Physicians should be aware of a new statewide form that summarizes patients’ end-of-life decisions on a form that a physician can sign and translate into an active order.

The Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form was mandated by one of several state laws involving health care that took effect on Jan. 1. [See related article]

Typically, said Elizabeth Polek, director of Care Coordination [Social Services], the POLST forms were intended to provide nonphysicians with authorization to carry out patient end-of-life wishes including those typically expressed in an advance directive. The forms are brightly colored and intended to be easily understood and recognized in an emergency in the field but are legally binding in the hospital unless superseded.

“But patients may also bring these to the hospital either already signed or as a request for you to sign for placement in their medical record.

“You as a physician are not required to provide the form, but if a patient presents you with a signed form, it becomes a legal order,” she said.

The new law has provisions for immunity for physicians who provide care requested on the form by patients and also has provisions for orders to be updated by attending physicians as conditions change.

To download a summary and contacts from the Department of Public Health on provisions of the law, Assembly Bill 3000: [click here for pdf].