Sunday, October 30, 2011

Most Days I Clamor for POLST

Helen Kao at Geripal recently wrote a thoughtful post which highlights some of the flaws in the California POLST form. It's worth a read and I agree with her comments.  (And even though I use "POLST" here, I agree with her thoughts on using "POST" instead.)

For jurisdictions which are considering the establishment of POLST, it is important to consider the experience of other states as new forms are designed and legislation is drafted. I live in one of the many states which is in the process of developing a program. In spite of the weaknesses of forms currently in use in other places, PO(L)ST/MO(L)ST remains a very helpful tool with new research continuing to back its utility.  For instance, consider a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society which demonstrated high consistency between treatments provided to nursing facility residents and orders recorded on POLST forms. The study found that overall, POLST orders were consistent with treatments provided 94% of the time. Consistency rates were especially high for resuscitation orders. Consistency rates were slightly lower for antibiotic use and much more modest for feeding tubes use. 

Reasons for inconsistencies between orders and treatments should be evaluated further.  It's unclear that improving the form itself would reduce these inconsistencies.  Patients' preferences sometimes change and sometimes patients want their surrogate to have the leeway to change orders after the patient loses capacity (perhaps using a "best interest" standard of decision-making at that time rather than a pure "substituted judgment" standard). 

I hope that my state will "get it right the first time" taking into account the experiences of others. However I know that it is impossible to get it completely right the first time. Therefore, I hope that any legislation approved will include a process for modification of the forms which does not require the wheel to be reinvented down the road.

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