Oregon’s POLST program expands to provide patients with more control at the end of their lives

PORTLAND, Ore. — In its first 365 days, the Oregon POLST Registry has received more than 40,000 POLST forms from Oregonians with advanced illness or frailty. These individuals have chosen to participate in an innovative back up system to assure their treatment wishes can be found. The registry, which is based at Oregon Health & Science University, was established during the 2009 Legislature as part of the Healthy Oregon Act. The program was officially launched statewide on December 3, 2009.

POLST, which stands for Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, was developed and launched in Oregon over 2 decades ago to improve the care of seriously ill patients by honoring their preferences to have or to limit specific treatments. The centerpiece of the program is a pink-colored form designed to be displayed prominently in a patient’s home or care facility. The form provides medical orders to emergency medical personnel allowing them to be able to honor the patient’s health care wishes.

Since it’s creation, numerous other states have adopted similar POLST programs including Washington, California and New York.

The POLST registry is the latest evolution of the Oregon POLST Program. The registry provides emergency and critical care physicians, and emergency medical technicians statewide with 24/7 access to POLST medical orders of seriously ill patients. The forms are kept in a secure database so that a 24-hour emergency communications center can provide information in a time of crisis.

Other key statistics from the POLST Registry’s first year:

  • Over the past 11 months, 322 calls have been placed to the call center.
  • Most of the calls received at the call center were from emergency medical services (45 percent), followed by hospital emergency departments (31 percent) and hospital acute care units (20%).
  • On average, calls to the call center lasted about one minute, meaning that in that time, a patient was located and information was conveyed or a patient was determined not to be in the directory.

“The results from the first year of the POLST Registry operation even surpassed our highly aggressive goals,” said Susan Tolle, M.D., Director of the OHSU Center for Ethics in Health Care. “The Oregon POLST Task Force set the goal of 25,000 submissions in the first year, a mark we surpassed in July.

“The Oregon POLST Task Force, including health care professionals across the state, achieved this tremendous success through lots of hard work,” added Margaret Carley, R.N., J.D., chair of the Oregon POLST Task Force. “We also believe the popularity of the program is recognition by patients and their health care professionals of the tremendous impact of the POLST program.”

For more information about the Oregon POLST program, visit http://www.ohsu.edu/polst/programs/OregonPOLSTRegistry.htm

About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and only academic health center. As Portland’s largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), OHSU’s size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves more than 184,000 patients, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,900 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to each county in the state.

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