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Doctors often misinterpret medical wishes

For residents of Florida and throughout the nation, an individual who states their requests about medical care in their living wills or estate plans isn't enough anymore. A recent survey recently showed that about 50 percent of people working in a hospital or other health-care environment did not understand living wills. Among those, 90 percent were physicians.

Too frequently, such errors in deciphering documents that dictate medical care result in treatment a patient did not desire. Experts said training for residents and all doctors is crucial to improving the way doctors interpret the advance directives a patient has left. One expert said it is a topic that should be taught in med school but also serve as part of continuing education programs for doctors.

She said primary care doctors, especially, should urge their patients to specify the medical care they desire when faced with a potentially life-threatening medical issue before it happens and leave behind their wishes in a clearly written manner.

One way to do so is to sign a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. Florida is among those still studying the benefits of the POLST, and legislators have not yet made it legal.

With a POLST, both a patient and a doctor sign a document that goes into a patient's medical chart. The document outlines exactly the type of care a patient desires if a situation turns life threatening.

By having this form in patient records, no family members will have to search filing cabinets or wait until the bank opens to access wills locked away in a safe-deposit box. The form should be brightly colored so that it is not missed in a patient chart.

In lieu of Florida's adoption of a POLST plan, residents of any age should spell out clearly for their loved ones just what actions, if any, they would like medical professionals to take to try to extend their lives. Personal physicians should be given a copy of that order well in advance of an emergency, as well.

Source: American Medical News, "Clearing up confusion on advance directives," Alicia Gallegos, Oct. 29, 2012

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