Tips for Understanding the POLST Process

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Is POLST just a form?

POLST is a process that consists of a conversation and a form.

POLST (Portable Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) offers a way to have and document an important conversation with your doctor* about what you would or would not want when you can no longer speak for yourself.

Tips for Your Conversation, Remember the ABCs:

Ask Questions.  If you don’t understand something, ask.  It is important that you understand what is happening to you and what each treatment option means for you.

Be Honest.  Your doctor wants to know what treatments you do or do not want.

Communicate with Your Loved Ones.  Share your decisions with your loved ones and friends so they can help advocate for you when you cannot speak for yourself.

If you are diagnosed with a serious illness or frailty, you can ask about POLST or your doctor may mention it to you. The conversation should include:

  • What your medical diagnosis is (what you have)

  • What is likely to happen to you in the future (how the illness or disease will effect you)

  • What your treatment options are (including the risks and benefits of each option)

  • What your wishes are for treatments—What do you want? What do you not want?

  • This is a good time to talk about difficult topics that you would like to better understand. This includes any questions you or your family have about end-of-life care.

Below is the general process for completing a POLST form. 

Click here to learn more about the different components of a POLST form.

  • POLST is always voluntary. You choose whether you want to complete the form.

  • Talk with your doctor about the types of care you do and do not want.

  • It is very important that your doctor complete the POLST form after talking with you about your goals and healthcare wishes. It is appropriate, if needed, to remind your doctor that you can't complete the POLST form on your own. (Your doctor must complete the form and sign it for it to be valid. You are encouraged to sign it, showing you agree to the orders but are not required to.)

  • You can always change your mind or void the POLST form.

  • You will receive an original copy of the form- put this on (not in) your fridge or in your medicine cabinet.

  • You can decide if you want to have your POLST form in the Oregon POLST Registry.

    • If you want your POLST in the Registry your health care team will send it there once it is completed and signed.

    • You will receive information from the Registry with a POLST registry number, stickers with that number on it, and a magnet with that number (you can request more from the Registry).

    • If you opt-out, only you and your doctor will have a copy of the POLST so EMS may not be able to find it during an emergency.

  • If you have a medical emergency, emergency personnel will look on your fridge or in your medicine cabinet not only for the form but also for these stickers or magnets. Your Registry number is unique to you so emergency personnel can call the Registry and find out what your POLST form says.

  • If you are some place other than where you live when you have an emergency and do not have your form, emergency personnel may also call the Registry if they think or are told you have a POLST form or if they see a POLST registry sticker or medical ID bracelet.

    • NOTE: Please use POLST stickers or magnets which are provided by the Oregon POLST Registry. Some people have also independently purchased medical ID bracelets or jewelry.


* “Doctor" refers to who can sign a POLST form. POLST forms need a physician (M.D. or D.O.), nurse practitioner (N.P.), physician assistant (P.A.), or doctor of naturopathy doctor (N.D.) signature.