California testing electronic registry for end-of-life preferences

Nursing home residents' end-of-life wishes may become available at the touch of a button, pending the outcome of a pilot program underway in California.

Paper POLST forms, which detail patients' end-of-life preferences such as resuscitation orders and artificial nutrition, are currently used across the country. Only a few states, including Oregon, New York and West Virginia, keep an electronic registry of the directives. A recent study found that nearly half of all nursing home residents in California have completed a POLST form.

A coalition of emergency responders and social service providers in the state is testing an electronic registry of POLST — Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment — forms as part of a three-year pilot project in two counties.

The idea is to get healthcare providers the POLST forms quickly, regardless of what setting they're in and if a patient is able to communicate.

A statewide registry would be based in a “secure, cloud-based portal,” and would be open for providers to submit and view forms regardless of whether the patient was in a hospital, a nursing facility or at home, Kaiser Health News reported.

While a statewide registry might face future hurdles, including cooperation between providers and health systems, implementing one in California would be a “no-brainer,” providers said.

“It's almost like a driver's license for the end of your life,” one long-term care facility employee told Kaiser. “It's important."