Cover: Care Preferences in Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment in California Nursing Homes

Care Preferences in Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment in California Nursing Homes

Published in: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2022). doi: 10.1111/jgs.17737

Posted on Mar 16, 2022

by Lee A. Jennings, Neil S. Wenger, Li-Jung Liang, Punam Parikh, David Powell, Jose J. Escarce, David Zingmond


Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) facilitates documentation and transition of patients' life-sustaining treatment orders across care settings. Little is known about patient and facility factors related to care preferences within POLST across a large, diverse nursing home population. We describe the orders within POLST among all nursing home (NH) residents in California from 2011 to 2016.


California requires NHs to document in the Minimum Data Set whether residents complete a POLST and orders within POLST. Using a serial cross-sectional design for each year, we describe POLST completion and orders for all California NH residents from 2011 to 2016 (N = 1,112,668). We used logistic mixed-effects regression models to estimate POLST completion and resuscitation orders to understand the relationship with resident and facility characteristics, including Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Nursing Home Compare overall five-star quality rating.


POLST completion significantly increased from 2011 to 2016 with most residents having a POLST in 2016 (short-stay: 68%; long-stay: 81%). Among those with a POLST in 2016, 54% of long-stay and 41% of short-stay residents had a DNR order. Among residents with DNR, > 90% had orders for limited medical interventions or comfort measures. Few residents (< 6%) had a POLST with contradictory orders. In regression analyses, POLST completion was greater among residents with more functional dependence, but was lower among those with more cognitive impairment. Greater functional and cognitive impairment were associated with DNR orders. Racial and ethnic minorities indicated more aggressive care preferences. Higher CMS five-star facility quality rating was associated with greater POLST completion.


Six years after a state mandate to document POLST completion in NHs, most California NH residents have a POLST, and about half of long-stay residents have orders to limit life-sustaining treatment. Future work should focus on determining the quality of care preference decisions documented in POLST.

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