• hospice;
  • home care;
  • caregiver burden

Objectives: To determine whether families of patients who enroll in hospice near the end of life believe that they receive less benefit from hospice services than families of patients who enroll earlier.

Design: Semistructured interviews at the time of hospice enrollment and 1 month after the patient's death.

Setting: This study was conducted at the Hospice of Lancaster County, Lancaster, PA, over a 12-month period spanning 2003–2004.

Participants: First-time hospice admissions.

Measurements: Interviews assessed the anticipated helpfulness of six hospice services (enrollment interviews) and the actual helpfulness of the same services (follow-up interviews).

Results: Length of stay in hospice was associated with families' reports of the number of services provided (Spearman rho=0.34, P<.001), and with the mean helpfulness ratings for the services that were provided (Spearman rho=0.34, P<.001), although even with short lengths of stay, most families reported that they received the services that they anticipated and that those services were helpful.

Conclusion: These results indicate that families feel they receive greater benefits from longer lengths of stay in hospice. Future efforts to define an “optimal” length of stay in hospice should consider patients' and families' perceptions of the benefits that hospice offers.