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POLST Registry Launched

Patients’ wishes will be honored with help of new statewide voluntary program. Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon Health Authority partner on electronic registry with 24-hour phone coverage for emergency medical workers.
When people have serious illness, one of the most frightening things they deal with is how to ensure their wishes for treatment are met if they are unable to speak for themselves. To maintain control, patients often request a Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form, a medical order form completed by a patient and their physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Beginning Thursday Dec. 3, patients will have an additional method to control their care through a voluntary statewide registry available to emergency personnel, if needed.

The pink POLST form provides specific medical instructions to health care professionals at a time when the patient is incapacitated. However, a POLST form is helpful only when emergency personnel can locate the form.

Under the system, emergency personnel who arrive at the scene can access the POLST Registry 24 hours a day to get the information they need to care for people in accordance with their wishes. This is a backup system if the hard copy of their POLST form cannot be located. The voluntary registry, the first of its kind in the nation, was established at Oregon Health & Science University through a partnership with the new Oregon Health Authority as part of the state’s comprehensive health reform bill, which was passed by the Legislature in June 2009.

By accessing patient information in the POLST Registry, emergency responders can provide the appropriate level of care and comfort measures for individuals with advanced illness or frailty.

“When emergency medical personnel can find a POLST form on the scene, it provides medical orders and is remarkably effective in that patient wishes are followed,” said Terri Schmidt M.D., director of the POLST Registry project and a professor of emergency medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Unfortunately, frequently they are unable to immediately locate a patient's POLST form. This is why the registry plays such a crucial role.”  

As of Dec. 3, the POLST Registry is fully operational and able to accept calls from emergency medical professionals. Additionally, from this point forward, health care professionals must submit all newly completed POLST forms to the statewide registry unless the patient chooses to opt out. Participating in the POLST Program and Registry is entirely voluntary, and the orders can be changed at any time.

The statewide registry is an important enhancement for the POLST program, which was created nearly two decades ago under the leadership of Oregon physicians Patrick Dunn, M.D., and Susan Tolle, M.D., and continues to lead national innovation in care for patients with advanced illness. It was designed to honor the wishes of people with advanced illness to have or to limit medical treatments. Since POLST was conceived in 1991, more than 30 states have used Oregon’s system as a model to establish their own programs.  

The new statewide POLST Registry is being funded under the Oregon Health Authority as part of the statewide reform effort to give Oregonians more control over their health care and improve the quality of care.

“The POLST document provides a ‘road map’ for specific care and treatment an individual wants in the event a medical emergency occurs,” said Steve DeHart, EMS coordinator, Lake Oswego Fire Department. “The POLST Registry is also a crucial element in improving and expediting patient care. Without the POLST Registry, EMS responders must identify, obtain and verify legal documents, then consult with a medical director on the telephone, while attempting to provide life-sustaining treatments. The POLST registry reduces or even eliminates this time-consuming hurdle while ensuring care is provided that meets the patient’s wishes.”  

To learn more about the POLST Program and the new registry visit

Editors note:
Contact information for submitting completed POLST forms:
Oregon POLST Registry
Mail Code: CDW-EM
3181 S.W. Sam Jackson Park Road
Portland, OR  97239
Fax: 503 418-2161  
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