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Patient-Directed Care

POLST ensures wishes are followed

In the past, first responders struggled to decipher various end-of-life forms to determine what the patient wanted.

"It was a nightmare," said Steve DeHart, EMS coordinator for the Lake Oswego Fire Department. "I remember many occasions having to read through multiple pages to determine what the patient wanted."

With POLST, they know — and quickly.

In December 2009, an electronic registry was created as a backup so that medical staff could access the form even when the hard copy is not readily available. About 77,000 POLST forms have been submitted to the registry. The digital version is available to emergency responders around the clock with one call, and more than 900 calls have been made.

"We're very cautious to make sure we give the right information," said Terri Schmidt, M.D., director of the registry.

"We've never given wrong information."

The system is still being tweaked to make it more efficient. The Oregon POLST Task Force collects feedback and revises the form every two years. A pilot program now under way at Providence Health System clinics statewide is testing electronic submission of the forms, which are now keyed in by hand.

"There's been a lot of thought put into it," said Joyce DeMonnin, another of Ethelyn's daughters, who is the outreach director for AARP Oregon. "They've been very respectful of patients and done careful research to make this a user-friendly tool."

Also of interest: Questions for caregivers to ask the doctor. >>

Lynne Terry is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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