MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Nearly 89,000 people requested forms for advance health care directives in 2012, setting a record for the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care.
The center, housed at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, was launched in 2002 to help people with medical powers of attorney, living wills and medical orders such as do-not-resuscitate cards. It also offers POST forms, short for Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment.
Dr. Alvin Moss, the center's director, said a total of 88,704 advance directives and medical orders were requested last year. That's 4,000 more than 2011 and more than double the number distributed in 2002.
More than half were POST forms, converting a patient's wishes into medical orders. It's an effective tool for ensuring that doctors do only what their patients want and no more, Moss said Thursday.
POST forms are recommended only for seriously ill patients whose health care providers would not be surprised by death within one year.
West Virginia has one of the nation's oldest and least healthy populations, consistently ranking high in categories such as tobacco use and obesity, and reporting high rates of diabetes, chronic lung disease, congestive heart failure and cancer.
Surveys have also repeatedly shown that most West Virginians would prefer to die peacefully and with dignity, not connected to machines for a prolonged period. In 2010, Moss said, three-quarters of West Virginians said they "would rather live a shorter amount of time to avoid pain, suffering, and being kept alive on machines."
"That figure has been remarkably consistent over the past decade," he said, "and the POST form is one way to ensure that people's wishes are communicated."
The forms are free, he said, "but the benefits are priceless."
Some are requested not by individuals but by health care providers who hand them out to certain patients.
Starting this year, health care providers will also have access to an electronic database registry that will help them when treating patients who may be unable to communicate their wishes.
The e-Directive Registry is maintained through the West Virginia Health Information. More than 13,400 forms were submitted to the e-registry last year, and Moss says the goal this year is to get more forms in electronic form so they're more accessible.