, Volume 25, Issue 10, pp 1009-1019
Date: 10 Jun 2010

Why Don’t Patients Enroll in Hospice? Can We Do Anything About It?

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United States hospice organizations aim to provide quality, patient-centered end-of-life care to patients in the last 6 months of life, yet some of these organizations observe that some hospice-eligible patients who are referred to hospice do not initially enroll.


Primary objective: To identify reasons that eligible patients do not enroll in hospice (phase 1). Secondary objective: To identify strategies used by hospice providers to address these reasons (phase 2).


Semi-structured interviews analyzed using content analysis.


In phase 1, we interviewed 30 patients and/or family members of patients who had a hospice admissions visit, but who did not enroll. In phase 2, we interviewed 19 hospice staff and national experts.


In phase 1, we asked participants to describe the patient's illness, the hospice referral, and why they had not enrolled. We performed a content analysis to characterize their reasons for not enrolling in hospice. In phase 2, we enrolled hospice admissions staff and hospice experts. We asked them to describe how they would respond to each reason (from phase 1) during an admissions visit with a potential new hospice patient. We identified key phrases, and summarized their recommendations.


Reasons that patients hadn’t enrolled fell into three broad categories: patient/family perceptions (e.g., “not ready”), hospice specific issues (e.g., variable definitions of hospice-eligible patients), and systems issues (e.g., concerns about continuity of care). Hospice staff/experts had encountered each reason, and offered strategies at the individual and organizational level for responding.


In hopes of increasing hospice enrollment among hospice-eligible patients, non-hospice and hospice clinicians may want to adopt some of the strategies used by hospice staff/experts for talking about hospice with patients/families and may want to familiarize themselves with the differences between hospice organizations in their area. Hospices may want to reconsider their admission policies and procedures in light of patients’ and families’ perceptions and concerns.

This work was supported by the National Institute on Aging (K23 AG19635). This material was presented in part at the Annual Assembly of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine in New Orleans, LA in January 2005, and at the Annual Meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in April 2007.