Theses Doctoral

An Evaluation of the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Program

Tark, Aluem

The number of elderly in the U.S. (i.e., individuals age 65 years or older) is growing at a rapid rate. While the current proportion of elderly persons living in U.S. is estimated to be little over 14%, it will soon reach up to 20% in next 10 years. In addition, it is anticipated that the elderly population will soon outnumber the younger generations, for the first time in U.S. history.

With the rapid shift we are witnessing in the U.S. population, the World Health Organization (WHO) informs that the leading cause of death in U.S. has also shifted: from infections to chronic illnesses. The majority of elderly individuals will suffer from at least one chronic illness, and many will live longer than ever, with complex multiple healthcare needs. The demands for specialized end of life (EoL) care among frail elderly will continue to rise, and it is among the top research priorities to identify best practices in EoL care and understand how best to facilitate patient-centered care in healthcare settings.

In order to increase awareness in the importance of quality care provided to those who are near EoL, the Institute of Medicine (IOM; now the National Academy of Medicine) recommended a nation-wide implementation of an advance care planning tool, the POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment). Designed specifically for frail individuals living with serious illnesses, the POLST program is used to elicit care preferences and deliver goal-concordant care. Making patients’ specific care wishes actionable and transferrable, it aims to preserve one’s autonomy, and to allow them to die with dignity. This dissertation aims to evaluate the POLST program, from its effectiveness, dissemination, to outcomes associated with its maturity status.

The first chapter provides background information on the aging population the importance of advance care planning among frail elderly persons. The POLST program is introduced and I lay out the three research aims and the significance of each topic. Chapter 2 contains a systematic review of scientific evidence on the concordance between documented care wishes and actual care delivered to the POLST users. It explains specific care interventions that yielded high concordant care, as well as ones that had mixed results. In chapter 3, an environmental scan of a state-specific POLST program across all U.S. states and Washington D.C. is presented; the scan examined maturity status, specific care options mentioned/ absent as well as descriptive statistics on the association between presence of infection/pain-related care options and the POLST program maturity status. In chapter 4, a quantitative analysis aimed at examining the impacts of the POLST program maturity status on a patient-level outcome (i.e., nursing home death) is presented. In it, multiple large datasets were used to generate a representative sample of the U.S. nursing home population. I then applied multivariate logistic regression modeling to estimate associations. Lastly, chapter 5 synthesizes the findings of this dissertation as well as strengths and limitations. It then shares recommendations for policy, clinical practice and future research.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Stone, Patricia W.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 7, 2019