A Tool to Assess Patient and Surrogate Knowledge About the POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment)Program

Susan E. Hickman, Alexia M. Torke, Greg A. Sachs, Rebecca L. Sudore, Anne L. Myers, Qing Tang, Giorgos Bakoyannis, Bernard J. Hammes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Context: It is especially important that patients are well informed when making high-stakes, preference-sensitive decisions like those on the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)form. However, there is currently no way to easily evaluate whether patients understand key concepts when making these important decisions. Objectives: To develop a POLST knowledge survey. Methods: Expert (n = 62)ratings of key POLST facts were used to select items for a POLST knowledge survey. The survey was administered to nursing facility residents (n = 97)and surrogate decision-makers (n = 112). A subset (n = 135)were re-administered the survey after a standardized advance care planning discussion to assess the scale's responsiveness to change. Results: The 19-item survey demonstrated adequate reliability (α = 0.72.). Residents' scores (x = 11.4, standard deviation 3.3)were significantly lower than surrogate scores (x = 14.7, standard deviation 2.5)(P < 0.001). Scores for both groups increased significantly after administration of a standardized advance care planning discussion (P < 0.001). Although being a surrogate, age, race, education, cognitive functioning, and health literacy were significantly associated with higher POLST Knowledge Survey scores in univariate analyses, only being a surrogate (P < 0.001)and being white (P = 0.028)remained significantly associated with higher scores in multivariate analyses. Conclusion: The 19-item POLST Knowledge Survey demonstrated adequate reliability and responsiveness to change. Findings suggest the survey could be used to identify knowledge deficits and provide targeted education to ensure adequate understanding of key clinical decisions when completing POLST.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1143-1150.e5
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
  • advance care planning
  • nursing home
  • palliative care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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