Health care planning lets you choose the kind of medical care you will – or will not – receive should you become incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. A power of attorney for health care (PAHC) is a legal document that enables you to designate a health care spokesperson or agent. A properly executed PAHC provides the agent with the legal authority to act as your decision-maker in selecting appropriate treatment options. Physicians, nurses and other health care providers must respect the PAHC agent’s treatment requests.

A Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is a particularly useful tool for people who are very frail or suffer from terminal illnesses. It complements the PAHC by converting a patient’s wishes regarding resuscitation into a formal medical order. The three specific orders for life sustaining treatment choices address cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); medical interventions for comfort and pain relief; and limitations on tube feeding when eating is no longer feasible or desired.


Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
include firefighters, law enforcement officers, and paramedics. When responding, they seldom have the time or ability to locate agents of terminally ill patients. As a result, EMTs usually commence immediate CPRs. For those who do not want to receive them, a POLST provides formal instructions that specified treatment options just should not be applied.

To be valid, the POLST must be completed after a health care provider and patient or PAHC agent have conferred about anticipated treatment options that may be confronted should issues of life support arise. The form must be signed by the treating physician and the patient or PAHC agent. Although not required, it is usually prepared on pink cardboard-like paper that makes it quite noticeable to emergency medical and other health care providers.

People who reside at home should place the pink form where it can be immediately located – either on the refrigerator door or a corner of the bed. Hospitals and skilled nursing facilities keep the bright pink POLST on the first page of the patient’s medical file.

Preparation of a POLST form is completely voluntary, both in terms of being offered by a physician or signed by a patient or PAHC agent. However, even if they refuse to offer individual patients the POLST option, physicians and other health care providers who receive a properly signed and endorsed POLST are legally required to respect it as an existing treatment order.

Each patient’s POLST must be periodically reviewed by the current health care provider. Should the patient be transferred from one facility to another, should there be a significant change in the patient’s health status (improvement or deterioration), or should the patient’s treatment preferences change, the form must be amended, and may be voided at any future time.

For more information on the protections provided and procedures involved in obtaining a POLST, visit the California Coalition for Compassionate Care website at finalchoices.org. To obtain a free Advanced Health Care Directive form call H.E.L.P. at 310-533-1996 or click here.

Health care planning lets you choose the kind of medical care you will – or will not – receive should you become incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. A power of attorney for health care (PAHC) is a legal document that enables you to designate a health care spokesperson or agent. A properly executed PAHC provides the agent with the legal authority to act as your decision-maker in selecting appropriate treatment options. Physicians, nurses and other health care providers must respect the PAHC agent’s treatment requests.

A Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is a particularly useful tool for people who are very frail or suffer from terminal illnesses. It complements the PAHC by converting a patient’s wishes regarding resuscitation into a formal medical order. The three specific orders for life sustaining treatment choices address cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); medical interventions for comfort and pain relief; and limitations on tube feeding when eating is no longer feasible or desired.


Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
include firefighters, law enforcement officers, and paramedics. When responding, they seldom have the time or ability to locate agents of terminally ill patients. As a result, EMTs usually commence immediate CPRs. For those who do not want to receive them, a POLST provides formal instructions that specified treatment options just should not be applied.

To be valid, the POLST must be completed after a health care provider and patient or PAHC agent have conferred about anticipated treatment options that may be confronted should issues of life support arise. The form must be signed by the treating physician and the patient or PAHC agent. Although not required, it is usually prepared on pink cardboard-like paper that makes it quite noticeable to emergency medical and other health care providers.

People who reside at home should place the pink form where it can be immediately located – either on the refrigerator door or a corner of the bed. Hospitals and skilled nursing facilities keep the bright pink POLST on the first page of the patient’s medical file.

Preparation of a POLST form is completely voluntary, both in terms of being offered by a physician or signed by a patient or PAHC agent. However, even if they refuse to offer individual patients the POLST option, physicians and other health care providers who receive a properly signed and endorsed POLST are legally required to respect it as an existing treatment order.

Each patient’s POLST must be periodically reviewed by the current health care provider. Should the patient be transferred from one facility to another, should there be a significant change in the patient’s health status (improvement or deterioration), or should the patient’s treatment preferences change, the form must be amended, and may be voided at any future time.

For more information on the protections provided and procedures involved in obtaining a POLST, visit the California Coalition for Compassionate Care website at finalchoices.org. To obtain a free Advanced Health Care Directive form call H.E.L.P. at 310-533-1996 or click here.