Oregon end-of-life forms go electronic

Oregon Health and Science University officials say the digital registry ensures faster access to information about whether a patient wants life-sustaining treatment at the end of life.

Oregon Health and Science University officials say the digital registry ensures faster access to information about whether a patient wants life-sustaining treatment at the end of life. Oregon Health and Science University

Officials at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) announced Tuesday that the state's Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) registry is going digital on or near December 1.

Until now, as a POLST program coordinator explained to me, someone with chronic or terminal illness has had the option to go to a doctor's office and fill out a POLST form in the presence of a doctor or nurse, and then keep the document at home where, ideally, emergency medical personnel could find it (such as the refrigerator). If the paper is lost, determining the wishes of the patient can be challenging, to say the least.

Now, a patient has the option to check (or leave blank) a box that directs that person's end-of-life directives into a private digital database, thereby enabling emergency medical personnel to access a patient's electronic POLST file in the event that the original paperwork is lost.

This is the first electronic database of its kind in the country, says Dr. Susan Tolle, director of OHSU's Center for Ethics in Health Care. West Virginia, she says, recently received a grant to create the same type of database, and some 30 states are developing similar ones as well:

This model is the next step in getting vital information not for healthy people, but people with advanced frailty...who wish to have their values translated into orders to have or to limit treatment.
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