Use of the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) paradigm program in the hospice setting

J Palliat Med. 2009 Feb;12(2):133-41. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2008.0196.


Background: The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Paradigm Program was designed to ensure the full range of patient treatment preferences are honored throughout the health care system. Data are lacking about the use of POLST in the hospice setting.

Objective: To assess use of the POLST by hospice programs, attitudes of hospice personnel toward POLST, the effect of POLST on the use of life-sustaining treatments, and the types of treatments options selected by hospice patients.

Design: A telephone survey was conducted of all hospice programs in three states (Oregon, Wisconsin, and West Virginia) to assess POLST use. Staff at hospices reporting POLST use (n = 71) were asked additional questions about their attitudes toward the POLST. Chart reviews were conducted at a subsample of POLST-using programs in Oregon (n = 8), West Virginia (n = 5), and Wisconsin (n = 2).

Results: The POLST is used widely in hospices in Oregon (100%) and West Virginia (85%) but only regionally in Wisconsin (6%). A majority of hospice staff interviewed believe the POLST is useful at preventing unwanted resuscitation (97%) and at initiating conversations about treatment preferences (96%). Preferences for treatment limitations were respected in 98% of cases and no one received unwanted cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), intubation, intensive care, or feeding tubes. A majority of hospice patients (78%) with do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders wanted more than the lowest level of treatment in at least one other category such as antibiotics or hospitalization.

Conclusions: The POLST is viewed by hospice personnel as useful, helpful, and reliable. It is effective at ensuring preferences for limitations are honored. When given a choice, most hospice patients want the option for more aggressive treatments in selected situations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Advance Care Planning / organization & administration*
  • Advance Care Planning / statistics & numerical data
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Female
  • Hospices*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Medical Audit
  • Middle Aged
  • Oregon
  • Terminal Care*
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Young Adult