When to Seek Hospice

There may come a time when efforts to cure or slow an illness are not working and can even be harmful, rather than helpful. If that time comes, a patient may elect to transition from palliative care to hospice care.

How do you know when it’s time for hospice care? When the burdens of treatment outweigh the benefits. For instance, an aggressive treatment might give you another month of life, but make you feel too ill to enjoy that time. Palliative doctors can help you determine the advantages and disadvantages of specific treatments.

Following are some signs that you may experience a better quality of life with hospice care:

  • You’ve made several trips to the emergency room and your condition has been stabilized, but your illness continues to progress.

  • You’ve been admitted to the hospital several times within the last year with the same symptoms.

  • You wish to remain at home, rather than spend time in the hospital.

  • You are no longer receiving treatments to cure your disease.

Hospice care is covered by the Medicare Hospice Benefit (Part A), Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare and many private insurance companies.

The Hospice Team/Hospice Services

Hospice care is provided by a team of professionals with the patient and his/her loved ones at the center of all decision-making. A hospice team includes doctors, nurses, social workers, spiritual caregivers, grief counselors, hospice aides, volunteers, and therapists. Depending on the hospice care provider, additional therapies may be available, including music, pet, or massage therapy.

The hospice team's goal is to work with an individual and his/her loved ones to provide the care that matters most to a patient.

 A hospice team works to:

  • Provide care that relieves pain and symptoms. This care includes medication and physical, occupation, nutrition, and/or speech therapies.

  • Respond to emergencies or questions 24/7.

  • Offer counseling and spiritual support.

  • Teach families and caregivers specific care techniques, such as turning, positioning and transferring, bathing and giving medications.

  • Arrange for necessary equipment such as hospital beds, oxygen, bedside commodes and wheelchairs.

  • Coordinate any additional help and special services needed in the home.

  • Offer grief support, which may include writing letters, making telephone and personal contacts, counseling, or providing opportunities to share experiences in organized support groups.

  • Provide information about hospice care settings outside the home, such as nursing homes or residential hospices.

  • Provide or coordinate short-term inpatient care, or respite care, when a caregiver needs relief.

Family or loved ones play an important role on the hospice team by:

  • providing a safe, comfortable environment

  • alerting the rest of the hospice team of changes in the patient's condition

  • providing personal care such as feeding, bathing, turning, and giving medications

Selecting a Hospice Program

Talk to your current provider and/or primary physician about hospice services and any recommendations they might have. A physician can make a referral to a hospice program. If your physician has not brought it up, you should ask for more information when you and your loved ones are ready.  You can also contact hospice providers directly or view their websites to learn more.

Find a Hospice Provider


Talking about serious illnesses can be difficult for families and providers. Need help with choosing the questions to ask?

Questions that you and your loved ones can discuss and share with your health care provider.