Pennsylvania Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

Do you or your loved one have a serious medical condition? Examples of such conditions include advanced heart, lung or kidney disease, cancer, liver failure, Parkinson’s and dementia.

Have your or a loved one been told you are moving close to the end of life?
Such patients often want to make very clear their wishes regarding the type of care they want to receive, or do not want to receive, if their condition progresses. There is a document by which patient wishes can be made known to doctors, nurses and other health care providers. It is called Pennsylvania Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form.

The POLST is not intended to replace an advance directive (living will and health care power of attorney). The POLST form includes documentation of one’s preferences for resuscitation, intensity of care and use of tube feedings. It can only be completed after a conversation that a doctor or other health care provider has with a patient. If the patient is unable to have the conversation, the doctor may speak to a patient’s legal medical decision-maker.

The POLST is valid and effective once it is signed by a doctor or nurse practitioner and the patient or his medical decision-maker. It then becomes a specific medical order designed to be honored by health care workers during a medical crisis. This is a distinctive difference from an advance directive. The POLST travels with the patient between care settings such as home, hospital, long-term care or any other facility. It is a bright pink color so it can be easily seen and medical choices recognized wherever someone is receiving care.

If you think a POLST is right for you or your loved one, talk to your health care provider. Your doctor, nurse, social worker or other health care professional is the best resource for information about POLST.
The following websites have POLST information:
• Email requests may be sent to to learn more.

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Marian Kemp, RN, of the Coalition for Quality at the End of Life (CQEL). She may be reached at