TRIAD XII: Are Patients Aware of and Agree With DNR or POLST Orders in Their Medical Records

J Patient Saf. 2019 Sep;15(3):230-237. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000000631.


Objective: The aim of the study was to determine (1) whether do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders created upon hospital admission or Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) are consistent patient preferences for treatment and (2) patient/health care agent (HCA) awareness and agreement of these orders.

Methods: We identified patients with DNR and/or POLST orders after hospital admission from September 1, 2017, to September 30, 2018, documented demographics, relevant medical information, evaluated frailty, and interviewed the patient and when indicated the HCA.

Results: Of 114 eligible cases, 101 met inclusion criteria. Patients on average were 76 years old, 55% were female, and most white (85%). Physicians (85%) commonly created the orders. A living will was present in the record for 22% of cases and a POLST in 8%. The median frailty score of "4" (interquartile range = 2.5) suggested patients who require minimal assistance. Thirty percent of patients requested cardiopulmonary resuscitation and 63% wanted a trial attempt of aggressive treatment if in improvement is deemed likely. In 25% of the cases, patients/HCAs were unaware of the DNR order, 50% were unsure of their prognosis, and another 40% felt their condition was not terminal. Overall, 44% of the time, the existing DNR, and POLST were discordant with patient wishes and 38% were rescinded. Of the 6% not rescinded, further clarifications were required. Discordant orders were associated with younger, slightly less-frail patients.

Conclusions: Do-not-resuscitate and POLST orders can often be inaccurate, undisclosed, and discordant with patient wishes for medical care. Patient safety and quality initiatives should be adopted to prevent medical errors.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Living Wills / ethics*
  • Male
  • Medical Records / standards*
  • Resuscitation Orders / ethics*
  • Terminal Care / methods*