What is POLST?

A portable medical order that goes by different names in different states

Elissa

By

Elissa Suh

Elissa Suh

Personal Finance Editor

Elissa Suh is a senior editor of estate planning at Policygenius in New York City. She has researched and written extensively about wills, trusts, and personal finance since 2019, with an eye towards making difficult (and at times gloomy) topics easy to understand for readers. Her articles and data stories has been cited by the likes of MarketWatch, CNBC, PBS, Inverse, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more.

Updated September 8, 2021|4 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our

editorial standards

and how we make money.

Physician orders for life-sustaining treatment, or POLST, is a form that expresses your preferences for end-of-life treatment, and medical professionals are usually obligated to follow it. With a POLST form you can state whether you want CPR, a feeding tube, and other types of care. POLSTs are created by a doctor to document a patient's wishes, and it is voluntary to make one — you can't be forced to.

POLSTs are commonly used by elderly patients who are severely ill, frail, and near death, differentiating them from advance directives, which even healthy individuals can benefit from creating as part of their estate plan, since they can help to plan broadly for future circumstances. Every state has some form of POLST, which may have a slightly different name, like MOLST (medical order for life-sustaining treatment), but they should cover the same ground.

Key Takeaways

  • POLST forms are a voluntary part of advance planning, and not everyone needs one

  • A POLST form doesn’t replace an advance directive, but it can work in conjunction with one

  • You can create an advance directive yourself, but you need a doctor to prepare a POLST since it’s a medical order

  • Health care workers are typically obligated to follow the patient's wishes as documented on their POLST form

How does a POLST form work?

POLST forms typically contain instructions about your preferences for life-sustaining medical treatment, and must be completed by a doctor. They are commonly divided into three parts.

  • The first section is about CPR, and whether or not the patient wants to be resuscitated if they are found without a pulse.

  • The second section usually outlines the scope of medical intervention and treatments a patient wishes to receive once they're breathing, including antibiotics and medications, IV fluids, dialysis, breathing support, and comfort (palliative) care.

  • The third section states when and if the patient should receive artificial nutrition and hydration, as through feeding tubes.

When you come in contact with any medical personnel they are generally required to follow the guidelines set out in your POLST. However, in some states emergency medical services, like EMTs, are legally required to try and resuscitate you regardless of your POLST — unless you've filled out a separate out-of-hospital DNR (do not resuscitate) order.

Create your will from just $150

Start now

Who needs POLST?

Not everyone needs a POLST form, which is best suited for seriously ill patients who are nearing the end of life. Frail elderly individuals, people with advanced illness, like heart disease, lung disease, or cancer, might consider getting a POLST. A portable medical order can provide continuity of care when you move between different medical facilities (like if you're transferred in and out of different hospitals, nursing homes, or rehab facilities) and require any health care professionals you encounter to stick to the course of treatment that you and your doctor discussed and laid out in the form.

If you don’t have a life-threatening illness, a POLST may not be right for your situation — but you can still outline your preferences for medical treatment through other means, like living wills. Having an advance directive in place can ease the burden for your family members if they find themselves in a difficult situation, like when you’re in a coma and they need to make decisions on your behalf. You can get an advance directive when you create an estate plan with Policygenius.

How to get a POLST form

POLST forms are standardized and easy to complete. They are signed by patient and doctor, but before that can happen both parties need to have a discussion about the patient's medical condition and their preferences for treatment. The doctor can guide you through potential types of health care you may or may not want to receive and create the POLST order according to your wishes. In some states a physician assistant or nurse practitioner may be able to complete the POLST instead of a doctor. The chart below lists what the POLST form is called in your state and a link to the program or form if applicable.

POLSTs do not expire. You can revoke the POLST form by voiding it and creating a new one. You can also authorize someone you trust to sign the form on your behalf or change it, should you become incapacitated. 

POLST form and program by state

StatePOLST name
AlabamaAlabama Coalition for Advanced Care Planning
AlaskaPOLST - Comfort One Program
ArizonaPOLST - Portable Medical Orders
ArkansasPOLST - Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment
CaliforniaPOLST - Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
ColoradoMOST - Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment
ConnecticutMOLST - Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment
DelawareDMOST - Delaware Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment
D.C.MOST - Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment
FloridaPOLST - Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
GeorgiaPOLST - Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment
HawaiiPOLST - Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
IdahoPOST - Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment
IllinoisPOLST - Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
IndianaPOST - Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment
IowaIPOST - Iowa Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment
KansasTPOPP - Transportable Physician Orders for Patient Preferences
KentuckyMOST - Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment
LouisianaLaPOST - Louisiana Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment
MainePOLST - Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
MarylandMOLST - Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
MassachusettsMOLST - Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
MichiganMI-POST - Michigan Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment
MinnesotaPOLST - Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
MississippiMPOST - Mississippi Physician Orders for Sustaining Treatment
MissouriTPOPP - Transportable Physician Orders for Patient Preferences
MontanaPOLST - Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
NebraskaPOLST - Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
NevadaPOLST - Provider Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment
New HampshirePOLST - Provider Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment
New JerseyPOLST - Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
New MexicoMOST - Medical Orders For Scope of Treatment
New YorkMOLST - Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment
North CarolinaMOST - Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment Form
North DakotaPOLST - Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
OhioMOLST - Medical Orders For Life Sustaining Treatment
OklahomaOkPOLST - Oklahoma Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
OregonPOLST - Portable Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
PennsylvaniaPAPOLST - Pennsylvania Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment
Rhode IslandMOLST - Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment
South CarolinaPOST - Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment
South DakotaMOST - Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment
TennesseePOST - Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment
TexasMOST - Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment
UtahPOLST - Provider Order for Life Sustaining Treatment
VermontCOLST - Clinician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment
VirginiaPOST - Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment
WashingtonPOLST - Portable Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment
West VirginiaPOST - Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment
WisconsinPOLST - Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment
WyomingWyoPOLST - Providers Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment

POLST vs. advance directive 

POLST forms and advance healthcare directives can both relay what kinds of medical treatments you want to receive, including whether or not you want life-sustaining treatment like CPR — but these two elements of advance planning differ in how they're completed and what they ultimately achieve

Advance directives come in a few different types, and they are all legal documents that you can make on your own, unlike a POLST form. A living will outlines your general preferences for medical treatment, like whether or not you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops, and a healthcare proxy (also known as a medical or health care power of attorney) can let you authorize an agent to make decisions regarding your medical treatment on your behalf.

Related article: What is a durable power of attorney?

POLST forms address medical treatment, usually in regards to specific conditions or a critical illness, which is why only certain people need one. Everyone however can benefit from creating an advance directive as part of their estate plan. 

How do you change it? 

The process of changing and revoking a POLST and advance directives is different. You can draw up a new advance directive on your own, along with any other estate planning documents if your wishes have changed, but the contents of a POLST must be changed with a doctor just like when it was created. In general, POLSTs are periodically reviewed by a physician, and they may be updated frequently depending on your condition and whether it necessitates a different course of treatment.

Where do you store it?

POLST forms are generally kept somewhere visible, like on the refrigerator, and they are often printed on bright colored paper to help ease locating the form during an emergency. Some states may require that the form is filed with their POLST registry.

An advance directive, on the other hand, may be stored with other end-of-life or estate planning documents, like a will, with copies given to a close family member, trusted friend, or doctor to have on record. They may be harder to find during a medical emergency.