Hospice is a program designed to provide palliative care, focusing on comfort and quality of life rather than cure, to people with a terminal illness who have a prognosis of six months or less. Most hospice patients receive care in their private home or wherever else they reside, such as an assisted living facility or nursing home, but when appropriate, care can also be provided in an inpatient hospice facility or hospital.
Hospice employs a multidisciplinary team approach, offering the services of a nurse, physician/nurse practitioner, home health aide, social worker, and spiritual counselor to address the patient’s medical, custodial, emotional, social, and spiritual needs, and to provide family support. Other services may include physical, occupational, and speech therapy, medical supplies and equipment, dietary and other counseling, continuous home care at times of crisis, respite care for caregiver relief, volunteer support, and bereavement services. Medications related to the patient’s terminal illness are also provided. At the patient’s discretion, the primary care physician can also be closely involved in the care plan.
Hospice care is covered under Medicare, Medicaid, most private insurance plans, HMOs, and other managed care organizations, but many hospices are not-for-profit, and most, if not all hospices accept all patients, regardless of ability to pay.
The word "hospice," originating from the Latin "hospitium" meaning guesthouse, was used to describe a lodging for exhausted or sick travelers returning from religious pilgrimage. In 1967, Dr. Cicely Saunders gave birth to the modern hospice movement when she established St. Christopher's Hospice near London, England. Using a team approach, St. Christopher's was among the first programs to use modern pain management methods to compassionately care for the terminally ill. The first hospice in the United States was established in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1974.