National standards and state variation in physician orders for life-sustaining treatment forms

Susan Hickman, Rebecca Critser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Paradigm is used across the country to document the treatment preferences of seriously ill or frail patients as medical orders. The National POLST Paradigm Task Force maintains consensus-based standards for POLST programs and uses these to determine whether a state POLST program is developing, endorsed, or mature. Objectives: To evaluate state program form adherence to national standards. Design: Document review. Measurements: Forms from endorsed/mature (n = 21) and developing (n = 23) states were compared with national standards to assess adherence to required and optional form elements. Results: Required elements were present on 84% of endorsed/mature state POLST forms and 73% of the developing state POLST forms. Compliance with required elements in endorsed states ranged from 50% to 100%. Three endorsed/mature states (14%) had forms that met all of the required elements fully and 14 (67%) had forms that met the all of the elements fully or partially. Conclusions: There is variability in adherence to required and optional standards as well as challenges in interpreting and applying existing standards. Although there may be legal and logistical barriers to the existence of a national POLST form, standardization remains an important goal to support patient-centered care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)978-986
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Palliative Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018


  • end-of-life
  • ethics
  • law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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