Health Directives for End-of-Life Care Skip To Content

Health Directives for End-of-Life Care

What is a health care directive?

A health care directive, also called a living will or an advance directive, is a document that describes your wishes for future health care and names a health care agent, the person who will make your health care decisions only if you are unable to do so yourself. Though the health care directive is a legal document, it can be completed without the assistance of an attorney.

A health care directive can also include information about treatment you wish or do not wish to receive and values that are important to your health care decisions.

View Sanford's advance directive form.

What is POLST?

POLST, Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, is a document that expresses specific end-of-life care preferences as provider orders. Your preferences are recorded on the POLST form, your provider considers and signs the POLST form, and it remains with you. Ambulance personnel and staff in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and the hospital can follow these orders when needed. POLST-type advance care planning is appropriate for persons who are seriously ill with a life-limiting disease or advanced frailty.

How are POLST and health care directives different?

Though both POLST and health care directives express preferences for treatment, there are important differences.

View the differences between a POLST, DNR and an advance directive.

  • An official provider order that can be followed as such in all Bemidji area health care settings
  • Created in addition to a health care directive for people with decision making capacity
  • Completed with a health care agent for people who don’t have decision making capacity
Health care directive
  • Not a provider order; health care personnel would need to obtain a medical order to provide care consistent with a health care directive
  • For people who are able to make their own health care decisions

How do I know what kind of document I need (i.e. health care directive, POLST, etc.)?

POLST is appropriate for seriously ill people with a worsening life-limiting illness like renal failure, heart failure, chronic lung disease or advanced frailty. A health care directive is appropriate for adults who are able to make their own health care decisions and may not have a serious illness. An ACP facilitator can help you decide what is best.

What is a health care agent?

Your health care agent is the person you select to make your health care decisions if you are unable to do so. For example, if your condition warranted it, health care professionals would ask this person about whether to attempt resuscitation, insert a feeding tube or hospitalize you. If you do not specifically select a health care agent and name that person in a health care directive, your next of kin would likely be asked by health care professionals to be your proxy or substitute decision maker. The health care agent is called upon to make decisions for you only if you are unable to do so yourself.

How should I select a health care agent?

Your health care agent should be someone you can trust to follow your wishes about your treatment and advocate for the goals of care you have chosen, and who is willing to assume this responsibility. Many people select a close relative for this role; others select a friend who would be able to make the difficult decisions that may be required. When considering your agent ask yourself, “Is she willing to take on this responsibility? Does he know what my wishes are? Can she make the decision I would want even if she disagreed with it? Could he make decisions in a stressful situation?