Like all families, mine has experienced the loss of a loved one and I know that it can be an emotionally draining experience. But I also know that those very difficult times can be made much easier by ensuring that the dying loved one’s wishes are articulated and followed. That’s the importance of National Healthcare Decisions Day April 16. It’s a nationwide reminder for all of us to consider our own healthcare wishes and to discuss those wishes with our loved ones.
In New Jersey, individuals have a new tool to make sure their healthcare preferences are documented and followed. It’s called POLST, which stands for Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. The new POLST form is designed to be completed jointly by an individual and a physician or advance practice nurse, detailing the individual’s goals of care and medical preferences. Unlike other documents like an Advance Directive, a completed POLST form is an actual medical order that becomes a permanent part of the individual’s medical record and is valid in all healthcare settings. The POLST form is intended for patients with a life-limiting illness; it allows them to state detailed preferences on specific goals and medical interventions.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd appointed NJHA’s Institute for Quality and Patient Safety to develop New Jersey’s POLST form and educate New Jersey’s provider community on its use, and we’re proud to be the state’s partner in this very important effort. The POLST Steering Committee was comprised of 15 members of the healthcare community representing hospitals, physicians, advance practice nurses, post-acute providers, EMS, legal experts and ethicists. Their discussion was always driven by one overriding concern – what are the individual’s goals of care? – that defines the POLST philosophy.
The reality is, our healthcare system hasn’t always done a very good job in caring for patients at the end-of-life. Data shows that New Jersey residents in their last six months of life see more specialists, endure more tests and procedures and spend more time in the intensive care unit than elsewhere in the United States. And all of that extra intervention doesn’t always benefit the patient in terms of prolonged life or improved quality of life. We believe POLST can help make a difference in ensuring that end-of-life care is driven, first and foremost, by the patient’s goals and wishes.
If you or someone you love is facing a chronic condition or a life-limiting illness, ask your physician or advance practice nurse about POLST. Visit our POLST site at www.njha.com/POLST for resources that can help get the conversation started.