Alaska POLST

Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment

Regulations adopting a POLST paradigm have been adopted by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the next step is for DHSS to develop protocols and procedures to help guide the implementation. DHSS estimates implementation of the POLST in Alaska will begin in December 2021 or January 2022. Education for hospitals, nursing homes, physicians, home health/hospice will be provided as implementation gets closer.  

POLST is an acronym that stands for Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. POLST helps give seriously ill patients more control over the medical treatment they receive. The Alaska POLST Form guides discussions between patients, their families, their physician, and their healthcare team about treatment wishes in instances of serious illness. The Alaska POLST Program Guidance provides more details. 

POLST encourages patients and their healthcare professionals to talk about what patients want at the end-of-life. The conversation should include:

  • Patient’s diagnosis. What disease(s) or medical conditions does the patient have?
  • Patient’s prognosis. What is the likely course of the disease or condition?  What will happen to the patient over time?
  • Treatment options. What treatments are available to the patient?  How do they help? What are the side effects?
  • Goals of care. What is important to the patient?  What makes a good quality of life?

After talking, the patient and his/her healthcare provider may be able to make informed shared decisions about what treatments the patient wants, or does not want, and document them on a POLST form.  

The POLST form is a portable medical order that can follow the patient and help healthcare providers understand the patients’ goals whenever or wherever the patient has a medical emergency and cannot speak for himself/herself. POLST helps to ensure that patients receive the treatments that they want, and do not receive treatments that they do not want.

Completing a POLST form is completely voluntary. It is intended for patients with advanced illness or frailty and records choices for medical treatment in the patient’s current state of health.

The POLST form complements an Advance Directive and does not replace that document. An Advance Directive is still necessary to appoint a legal healthcare decision maker, and is recommended for all adults, regardless of their health status.

POLST is different from an Advance Directive

Video from National POLST Program

How POLST Does More Than a DNR

Video from National POLST Program