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Oregonians Submit 10,000 POLST Forms to Registry

Within two months of its statewide launch, Oregon’s new POLST Registry - the latest expansion of Oregon’s highly successful Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment Program - is in full operation. The registry has received nearly 10,000 POLST forms. Susan Tolle, M.D., director of the Center for Ethics in Health Care at Oregon Health & Science University was invited to present a status report on the program to the Oregon Legislature’s Senate Healthcare Committee on Feb. 11.   

The POLST Program was established in 1990 to help ensure people with serious illness have their wishes for treatment met if they are unable to speak for themselves. At the center of the program is the pink POLST form, a medical orders form completed by a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant based on patient treatment preferences. The form provides specific medical instructions to health care professionals at a time when the patient is incapacitated.  Because the paper POLST form frequently is not immediately available to emergency personnel in a time of crisis, the Oregon POLST Registry was created to ensure critical health care needs are met.

Under the new 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 patients in accordance with their wishes. This is a backup system if the paper POLST form cannot be located. The voluntary registry, the first of its kind in the nation, was established through the Oregon Health & Science University Department of Emergency Medicine under the auspices of the new Oregon Health Authority, part of the state’s comprehensive health reform bill, which was passed by the Legislature in June 2009.

As POLST Registry coordinators reported to lawmakers on Thursday, the following milestones have been reached since the program’s launch:

  • As of January 2010, approximately 10,000 POLST forms have been submitted to the registry from across the state of Oregon.
  • Nearly all forms received were entered into the POLST Registry within 48 hours.
  • Health care professionals from all of Oregon’s 36 counties are successfully submitting POLST forms to the POLST Registry.
  • Between Dec. 3, 2009, and Jan. 31, 2010, the Emergency Communications Center at OHSU received 57 calls from emergency medical personnel seeking a match between the form in the registry and a patient in crisis. To date, seven inquiries, or 12 percent, have been successfully matched.  
  • During the past three months, OHSU’s Center for Ethics in Health Care has distributed 45,000 POLST forms, more than twice the prior year’s monthly average.  
  • From June 2009 to January 2010, more than 4,000 health care professionals have received formal training about the POLST Registry program, including form completion and submission.

Terri Schmidt, M.D., director of the new registry, currently is providing medical relief in Haiti.  Susan Tolle, M.D., who leads registry educational efforts, contributed to the report.

“Dr. Schmidt and her colleagues in the OHSU Department of Emergency Medicine deserve praise for their efforts and the early success of the registry,” said Tolle. “To have the POLST Registry fully functioning within two months of initial statewide launch is remarkable. The registry will be even more successful as additional POLST forms are entered.  We are just starting to see the benefits of the registry.  We encourage patients and their health care professionals to submit their POLST forms by faxing them to 503-418-2161. By having more completed forms in the registry, emergency medical personnel will more often have vital treatment information in a time of crisis.”

The POLST (Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) program was designed to honor the wishes of persons with advanced illness who either want to have or to limit medical treatments. At the center of the program is a medical order form completed by a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant based on a patient’s treatment wishes. The pink form complements a completed advance directive, providing specific medical instructions to health care professionals at a time when the patient is incapacitated. Participating in the POLST Program and Registry are entirely voluntary and the orders can be changed at any time based on the patient’s values and medical condition. Since POLST was first conceived in 1990, 30 other states have used Oregon’s system as a model to establish their own programs.

To learn more about the Oregon POLST Program and the new POLST 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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