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Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Orders and Portable Medical Orders

By

Thaddeus Mason Pope

, JD, PhD, Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2023
View PATIENT EDUCATION

As part of care planning for seriously ill patients, physicians discuss with patients the possibility of cardiopulmonary arrest in light of their immediate medical condition, describe CPR procedures and likely outcomes, and ask patients about treatment preferences. If the patient is incapable of making a decision about CPR, a surrogate may make the decision based on the patient’s previously expressed preferences or, if such preferences are unknown, in accordance with the patient’s best interests.

Living wills Living will Advance directives are legal documents that extend a person's control over health care decisions in the event that the person becomes incapacitated. They are called advance directives because... read more and durable powers of attorney for health care Durable power of attorney for health care Advance directives are legal documents that extend a person's control over health care decisions in the event that the person becomes incapacitated. They are called advance directives because... read more are not typically available in emergency situations and thus may be ineffective. Additionally, first responders are almost always required to initiate life support unless a valid DNR order or portable medical order (often called a POLST form) is in place and presented to them. All states have specialized DNR protocols or a portable medical orders program Portable Medical Orders The do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order placed in a patient’s medical record by a clinician informs the medical staff that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should not be done in the event of cardiac... read more for patients who are living at home or in any nonhospital setting. DNR protocols typically require the signing of an out-of-hospital DNR order by both the clinician and patient (or the patient’s surrogate) and the use of a special identifier (eg, a bracelet or brightly colored form) that is worn by or kept near the patient. If emergency medical personnel are called in case of emergency and see an intact identifier indicating DNR, they will provide comfort care only and not attempt resuscitation.

Portable Medical Orders

Portable medical orders communicate end-of-life care decisions of people with advanced illness. In the United States, portal medical order programs are implemented at the state level and are commonly called Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). Other names for such programs include Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST), Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (POST), Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment (MOST), Clinical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (COLST), and Transportable Physician Orders for Patient Preferences (TPOPP). The programs follow a common paradigm but have somewhat different forms and policies. The most common criterion for qualifying as advanced illness in these programs is if the clinician would not be surprised if the patient were to die within the next year or two.

In every state, the process is initiated by health care professionals through discussions with the patient or surrogate about the patient’s current condition and goals of care. It results in a set of medical orders that is portable across all health care settings and addresses CPR, along with overall goals of treatment (eg, comfort care only, full curative treatments, or limited treatments in between) and usually other critical care decisions, such as the use of artificial nutrition and hydration. These programs can help clinicians best honor their patients' wishes regarding goals of treatment and help ensure continuity across care settings.

POLST or similar programs exist in every state, and a national POLST organization provides a clearinghouse at www.polst.org.

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NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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