Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(6):817-818

See related article on hospice patients.

What is hospice?

Hospice (HAH-spiss) is a type of care for patients who are close to dying from an illness.

What does it do?

The goal of hospice is for you to live your life as fully as possible and be more comfortable in the time you have left. Hospice will not cure your illness, but it also will not cause you to die sooner. Instead, you can die naturally in your own time.

Your hospice care team may include doctors, nurses, social workers, home health aides, chaplains (ministers or other religious leaders), occupational therapists, and volunteers. This team has special training to help you and your family make the most of the last months of your life. They will work with your family and your doctor to make sure you get the best care for you.

Hospice can also help your family and loved ones to cope. They can get mental and spiritual support and grief counseling for at least a year after your death.

How can I get it?

You can get hospice care if your doctor decides you probably have less than six months to live because of your illness. If you live longer than six months, you can stay in hospice care if your doctor confirms that you are not expected to get better. You can choose to stop hospice care at any time. If you leave, you can go back at any time as long as you qualify for the program. You may no longer be able to get hospice care if your health improves or your illness starts to get better.

Where can I get it?

You can receive hospice care in your home or the home of a family member or friend, a care facility (such as a nursing home), or a hospital. If you want to stay at home, there will be someone you can call at any time if you have questions or concerns. You can also have regular visits from nurses. Most hospice programs will want to know if you have someone who will help care for you if you are not able to care for yourself.

Respite (RESS-pit) care is when another hospice caregiver takes care of you. You can get respite care from a hospice inpatient facility, hospital, or nursing home. This gives your caregiver a break. Respite care is available when your caregiver can't care for you at home for any reason (illness, vacation, fatigue). The hospice benefit allows you to receive respite for up to five nights at a time as often as you and your caregiver need it.

Who pays for it?

Medicare will pay for hospice services if you have Medicare Part A or have been disabled for more than two years. Most private insurance companies will also pay for it. If you do not have medical insurance, some hospice programs will enroll you at no cost. Your doctor or social worker can help you find a hospice that may do this.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

The American Academy of Family Physicians

National Hospice and Palliative Care

Hospice Association of America


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