What Are the Most Common Hospice Diagnosis?

What Are the Most Common Hospice Diagnosis?

Last Updated on June 19, 2024 by Frank Davis

Hospice care has only been around since 1948. Only since 1982 has hospice care been covered under Medicare. In the early days of hospice care, patients with terminal cancer were the bulk of those who received it. However, things have changed, and patients with a wide range of other terminal illnesses meet the criteria for receiving hospice care.

To be the best prepared for hospice care that improves the quality of life of patients, while reducing their pain, a proper diagnosis needs to be performed. According to a report from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, patients in hospice care enter the program with one of several different illnesses. The 2020 report reviewed 1.55 million hospice patients between 2017-2018. According to the report, there are some interesting findings that may surprise you.

Most Common Hospice Diagnosis

We are going to break down the most common hospice diagnosis according to how many people come into hospice care with a particular terminal illness. Cancer will be the obvious one at the top of the list. However, you may be surprised to see what else has made the list. After having a better understanding of what the most common hospice diagnosis candidates are, you may consider hospice care when you previously may have believed it wasn’t available.

According to the NHPCO report, here are the most common hospice diagnosis:

Cancer (29.6% – 336,307)

Just as expected, cancer is still the number one diagnosis for hospice patients. In 2018, the figure was at 29.6%, which is a slight decrease from the 30.1% in 2017. While cancer is still the top terminal illness, the figure has been declining for several years now due to advances in the treatment of the disease. Both hospice admissions and deaths have dropped for people with cancer. Today, cancer is only responsible for under 25% of all deaths in the US.

Heart Disease (17.4% – 196,971)

Heart disease has been climbing for a number of years now, although it did slightly pull back from 2017’s highs. In 2018, 17.4% of hospice patients were diagnosed with heart disease, a 0.2% drop from the previous year. People who were diagnosed with heart disease usually had a heart attack or stroke. 

Dementia (15.6% – 177,490)

Dementia is a fast-rising diagnosed disease that leads to patients moving into hospice care. End-stage dementia requires very detailed and extensive care due to patients being unable to perform many of the most basic functions without help. In 2018, 15.6% of hospice patients had dementia, which has held steady since 2017.

Respiratory Illnesses (11% – 124,407)

In 2018, 11% of hospice patients were diagnosed with a respiratory illness. That is the same as it was the previous year. One of the major diseases falling into this category is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Patients who have ended up in stage 4 COPD enter hospice at high rates due to their short life expectancy.

Stroke (9.5% – 107,439)

There was a slight uptick in 2018 compared with 2017 when it came to the diagnosis of hospice patients with stroke. In 2018, 9.5% of hospice patients were victims of a stroke. In the previous year, this figure stood at 9.6%. 


These are the most common hospice care diagnoses you should be aware of. As you can see, cancer is no longer the only disease a patient needs to suffer from to receive hospice care. In fact, a majority of patients in hospice care have a different terminal illness. Having this knowledge means you or a loved one can begin receiving hospice care when you may have thought it was not possible.

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