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What is hospice?

The term hospice was used long ago to refer to a type of lodging for travelers. Hospices were places where travelers could find rest and comfort during their journey. Today hospice refers to compassionate, end-of-life care when you are in the final phase of a terminal illness.

If you are ill and have a life expectancy of 6 months or less, hospice may be a better choice for your care than a hospital. Your healthcare provider, other healthcare professionals, family, friends, or clergy may make the referral to hospice.

Hospice seeks to neither hasten nor postpone death. The emphasis is on quality of life and dignity. Hospice recognizes your social, emotional, and spiritual needs as well as your physical needs. The hospice staff can help prepare you for a peaceful death at home or in a homelike setting.

Who qualifies for hospice care?

There are a variety of diagnoses that may qualify you for hospice care. The most important part of the diagnosis is that the doctor expects that you will die from your illness within 6 months if the illness follows its normal course. You may live longer than this, but if you are not getting better, you may be able to keep getting hospice care for more than 6 months.

Sometimes, a combination of problems rather than one clear diagnosis may qualify you for hospice. For example, you may be frail and elderly. Instead of one specific disease that will take your life, you may have several health problems that in combination are likely to soon cause death. Just because you may be frail and elderly does not mean you automatically qualify for hospice care. You must also be expected to live no longer than 6 months.

Treating the whole person

Hospice care is provided to both you and your family. All of you are involved in making decisions with your healthcare provider and hospice staff. Whenever possible, you are encouraged to make decisions about your treatment, relationships, and personal business. You will also be encouraged to voice your preferences about burial and memorial services. Grief counselors will give counseling to your family for about a year after your death.

Providing a team approach

A team of trained professionals provides hospice services. The team includes doctors, nurses, spiritual care counselors, social workers, physical therapists, hospice aides, pharmacists, dietitians, grief counselors, and volunteers. The team members work to address your medical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs as you near the end of your life.

Controlling pain

Hospice care will provide pain control. Most people want to have their pain controlled in a way that still allows them to be alert for some minor activities. The hospice team will work with your healthcare provider to ensure that you are as comfortable as possible.

Types of hospices

Most hospices can help with your needs day or night, 7 days a week. Care is usually offered at home. It is also offered in nursing facilities or a hospice house. The hospice house may provide a residential level of care, so it is as though it were your own home. Or it may provide an inpatient level of care, like a hospital. Sometimes, local hospitals have rooms set aside as hospice rooms. Depending on your need, you may stay in one or more of these places for hospice care.

Cost of hospice

Studies have shown that hospice care often costs less than other types of care during the last 6 months of life. Hospice care does not try to cure the illness. It does not use a lot of high-cost technology. Some tests are done to make sure hospice staff are doing all they can to provide comfort, but often they stop any tests or procedures that are not going to make a big difference in how much longer you will live. All of this reduces the cost of care.

Hospice also relies on family and friends to give much of your daily care. Volunteers may help the family with chores or errands. Volunteers may also sit with you while your caregiver takes a short break. Using family, friends, and volunteers helps reduce the cost of care.

For more information

The rules for enrollment may be different from one hospice to another. Some programs offer prehospice counseling to people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. For more information about hospice or to find a hospice in your area, you can contact:

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
Hospice help line: 1-800-658-8898
Web site:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-19
Last reviewed: 2010-12-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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