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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Thursday, February 17, 2022

What is the Difference Between a POLST and an Advance Healthcare Directive?

A Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is a physician order that helps give people with severe illnesses more control over the end-of-life care they will receive. A POLST and an advanced healthcare directive can include some of the same terms and instructions, but there are quite a few differences between these documents.

A California estate planning attorney can explain these documents and answer your questions, such as, what is the difference between a POLST and an advance healthcare directive? Your lawyer can also draft these and other documents to help you be prepared for future situations.

Differences Between a POLST and an Advance Healthcare Directive

Here are the ways in which a POLST and an advance healthcare directive are not the same:

  • They are different types of documents. An advance directive is a legal document, whereas a POLST is a medical order.
  • Who needs the document? It is a prudent decision for all competent adults to have an advance healthcare directive. A POLST, on the other hand, is generally for people with a life-threatening medical condition.
  • Appointment of a surrogate or decision-maker. A POLST form does not appoint someone else to make your medical decisions for you. An advance directive nominates someone as the individual’s decision-maker to handle choices about medical care when the person is unable to do so for himself.
  • Terms of the document. A POLST form communicates specific medical orders, whereas an advance directive typically communicates the individual’s general wishes and preferences concerning medical treatment options.
  • How to find the paperwork. With a POLST form, the patient has the original form, and there is a copy in the patient’s medical records. The location of an advance directive depends on what the individual did with the legal document after signing it. The person likely has the original advance directive. There could be copies in the medical records, attorney’s office, and with one or two trusted friends or relatives

While these are the primary differences between a POLST and an advance directive, there could be additional differences, depending on the circumstances.

Similarities Between a POLST and an Advance Healthcare Directive

One of the primary similarities between a POLST and an advance healthcare directive is that they both give the individual more control over their medical decisions in the event that they get incapacitated by illness or injury than if they did not have either of these documents. Also, the law does not force anyone to have a POLST form or an advance directive. Both documents are completely voluntary.

Is a POLST a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order?

No, even though they might contain similar terms, a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order instructs emergency medical service (EMS) providers and other healthcare workers permission not to perform emergency lifesaving measures like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

A POLST contains the terms chosen by the individual patient. In a POLST, the patient could include orders to perform CPR or not to perform CPR; in other words, it could include a DNR order. Also, a POLST can provide more information about the patient’s choices concerning other types of medical interventions.

A California estate planning attorney can guide you through an exploration of which medical choices document best meets your needs. Contact our office today for a free consultation.


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