Hospice—What Is It?

Hospice: living life to the fullest when time is running out. image ©Burke/Triolo Productions/Getty Images


  • Hospice is a philosophy of how to care for dying patients.
  • Hospice can be a building where care is provided to terminally ill patients.
  • Hospice may be an organization or business that provides care based on the hospice philosophy to dying patients and their families .

The hospice philosophy of care centers on providing holistic care to dying patients and their loved ones. Hospice care doesn't try to cure a patient's terminal illness.

Instead, it tries to limit or manage the symptoms of that disease so the patient can be comfortable despite his or her terminal illness.

Hospice is for the dying, but about living well in the last part of life

The goal of hospice care is to enable the patient to live the best life he or she can possibly live in the time that remains. It doesn’t try to postpone death, or to make death happen more quickly. Rather, it allows the patient’s terminal disease to progress at a natural rate while aggressively working to prevent uncomfortable symptoms or to treat those symptoms when they arise.

Hospice healthcare professionals attempt to control or eliminate pain, nausea, breathing difficulties, and other symptoms brought about by the patient’s disease or the dying process. Relieving the patient of these symptoms allows him or her to focus on living well rather than on those uncomfortable symptoms.

Patients who choose to receive hospice care aren’t giving up.

They haven’t lost hope. Rather, the focus of their hope and energy has shifted. While they may still hope for a cure, rather than expending their energy pursuing a cure, they’re choosing to spend their energy toward the fulfillment of other hopes.

They may hope to mend a relationship, to resolve an internal conflict, to provide as smooth a transition as possible for a loved one, or to accomplish a specific goal.

But, almost universally, hospice patients hope to maximize their enjoyment of each and every precious remaining moment.

Hospice isn’t just for the patient

According to hospice philosophy, in order to provide the best care for the patient, you must also provide emotional, psychological, and spiritual care for the patient’s loved ones. Hospice doesn’t usually espouse a particular religion or spiritual practice, but will support the existing spiritual beliefs of the patient or loved one.

Hospice care provided to a patient’s loved ones usually extends for months beyond the death of the patient. Grief support services include counseling, support groups, and follow up to help loved ones cope with their grief and adjust to changes in their lives brought about by the patient’s death.

Where does hospice care take place?

Many hospice organizations provide hospice care in the patient’s home. However, there are also hospice programs that provide a place for hospice patients to live while receiving hospice services.

This may be a freestanding building used exclusively for hospice patients. Or, it could be an area within a hospital or nursing home.

Paying for hospice care

In the United States, Medicare pays for hospice services via the Hospice Medicare Benefit. Most, but not all, state Medicaid programs also cover hospice services. Private and job-based health insurance plans may or may not specifically include hospice coverage, but most do.

Many non-profit and charitable hospice organizations provide hospice care for free to dying patients who can't afford to pay for it, and who don't have health insurance coverage for hospice services.



Pronounce the "hos" part of the word just like you pronounce it in the words hospital and hostel. Pronounce the end of the word so that it rhymes with kiss. The accent is on the first syllable.

Also Known As:

Palliative Care

Some use the terms palliative care and hospice care interchangeably. However, this use isn't 100% accurate. Hospice care is a type, or subset, of palliative care.

Hospice care provides palliative care to patients who are terminally ill with a life expectancy of six months or less. However, patients may receive palliative care without having a life expectancy of six months or less. In fact, patients with slowly progressive incurable diseases may receive palliative care for years before they begin receiving hospice care.

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