When is a patient appropriate for hospice care?

This information is designed to help you determine the appropriateness for Aurora at Home Hospice care. If you have any questions on how this applies to your situation or that of a loved one, please consult with your doctor.

How to use

  • Find the diagnosis that matches that of the patient.
  • Check indicators under the diagnosis. If the patient matches ANY of the criteria listed (unless otherwise stated), a referral may be made for a hospice care consultation with Aurora at Home.
  • If the patient does not meet the criteria listed, but does have a chronic illness, please click here to learn more about Aurora at Home's palliative care program.

Please feel free to direct any other questions regarding palliative or hospice care to 414-615-5900 or toll-free at 888-206-6955.

Breast cancer | Dementia | Failure to thrive | Heart disease | liver disease | Lung cancer | Prostate cancer | Pulmonary disease | Renal disease | Stroke & coma | All other conditions

Karnofsky Score Performance Status

The Karnofsy Score may be requested under certain diagnoses.

  • 100 – Normal, no complaints, no evidence of disease
  • 90 – Able to carry on normal activity, minor signs or symptoms of disease
  • 80 – Normal activity with effort, some signs or symptoms of disease
  • 70 – Cares for self, unable to carry on normal activity or to do work
  • 60 – Requires occasional assistance from others but able to care for most needs
  • 50 – Requires considerable assistance from others; frequent medical care
  • 40 – Disabled, requires special care and assistance
  • 30 – Severely disabled, hospitalization indicated; death not imminent
  • 20 – Very sick, hospitalization necessary, active supportive treatment necessary
  • 10 – Moribund

Breast cancer

Progressive disease

  • Worsening clinical signs – see below
  • Worsening lab values
  • Decreasing functional status
  • Evidence of metastatic disease

Clinical signs

  • Pain, nausea or vomiting
  • Thrombosis or DIC
  • Bone marrow involvement requiring transfusion
  • Superior vena cava syndrome

Disease stage

  • Stage IV (any T, any N, M1) at presentation
  • Progression of any earlier stage of disease to metastatic with either of the following:
    • Patient continues to decline in spite of definitive therapy
    • Patient refuses further treatment

Performance status


Must have 2 of the following

  • Ability to speak is limited to 6 words or fewer
  • Ambulatory ability is lost
  • Cannot sit up without assistance
  • Loss of ability to smile
  • Cannot hold up head

Patient should show all of the following characteristics

  • Inability to ambulate independently
  • Unable to dress without assistance
  • Unable to bathe properly
  • Incontinence of urine and stool
  • Unable to speak or communicate meaningfully

Failure to thrive/debility

Clinical signs

  • Progression of disease documented by symptoms or test results
  • Decline in Karnofsky score
  • Weight loss supported by decreasing albumin or cholesterol
  • Dependence with 2 or more of the following:
    • Feeding
    • Ambulation
    • Continence
    • Transfers
    • Bathing and dressing
    • Dysphagia leading to inadequate nutritional intake or recurrent aspiration
    • Increasing emergency visits, hospitalizations, or MD follow-ups related to their primary medical diagnosis
    • A score of 6 or 7 in the Functional Assessment Staging Test (FAST) for dementia
    • Progressive stage 3-4 pressure ulcers in spite of care

Heart disease

Clinical signs

  • Signs and symptoms of CHF at rest
  • Optimal dose of diuretic and vasodilator therapy
  • Ejection fraction of 20% or less
  • Cardiac symptoms:
    • Arrhythmias resistant to therapy
    • History of cardiac arrest
    • History of syncope
    • Cardiogenic brain embolism

liver disease

  • Cirrhosis/hepatic failure - not a candidate for liver transplant
  • Ascites refractory to medical management (Dietary sodium restriction and diuretics)
  • Hepatorenal syndrome
    • Oliguria
    • Urine Na < 10 mEq/L
    • Elevated BUN/creatinine
  • Hepatic encephalopathy refractory to medical management
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Recurrent variceal bleeding/spontaneous bacterial peritonitis

Lung cancer

Progressive disease

  • Worsening clinical signs – see below
  • Worsening lab values
  • Decreasing functional status
  • Evidence of metastatic disease, especially brain

Clinical signs

  • Pain, nausea or vomiting
  • Dyspnea
  • Significant hemoptysis
  • Superior vena cava syndrome
  • Recurrent pneumonia
  • Pericardial effusion/pleural effusion
  • Any metastasis

Disease stage

  • Stage IV (any T, any N, M1) at initial diagnosis
  • Stage III disease with pleural effusion
  • A patient with stage III disease who continues to decline in spite of therapy, or refuses therapy
  • Performance status Karnofsky score of 70% or less

Prostate cancer

Progressive disease

  • Worsening clinical signs – see below
  • Decreasing functional status
  • Evidence of metastatic disease

Clinical signs

  • Pain, nausea or vomiting
  • Thrombosis or DIC
  • Bone marrow involvement requiring transfusion

Disease stage

  • Stage IV (any T,N,or M1) at initial diagnosis
  • Progression of an earlier stage of disease with either of the following:
    • Patient continues to decline despite definitive therapy
    • The patient is refractory or refuses further treatment

Performance status

Pulmonary disease

Clinical signs

  • Progression of disease documented by any of these symptoms:
    • Dyspnea at rest
    • Dyspnea on exertion
    • Homebound/chairbound
    • Oxygen dependent
    • Copius/purulent sputum
    • Cyanosis: fingertips, lips
    • Barrel chested
    • Poor response to bronchodilators

Functional status

  • Decline in Karnofsky score
  • Increased hospitalizations for pulmonary infections
  • Decrease in FEV1 on serial testing of greater than 40 ml/year
  • Hypoxemia at rest on supplemental oxygen
  • Unintentional weight loss in the past 6 months
  • Resting tachycardia (more than 100 per minute)

Renal disease

Clinical signs

  • Uremia: clinical signs of renal failure:
  • Confusion, obtundation
  • Intractable nausea and vomiting
  • Generalized pruritus
  • Restlessness
  • Oliguria: urine output of less than 400 cc/24 hours
  • Intractable hyperkalemia: persistent serum potassium more than 7.0 not responsive to medical treatment
  • Uremic pericarditis
  • Hepatorenal syndrome
  • Intractable fluid overload

Laboratory criteria

  • Both must be present:
    • Creatinine clearance of less than 10 cc/minute
    • Serum creatinine of more than 8.0 mg/dl

Stroke and coma

Clinical/functional status

  • A continuous decline in clinical or functional status means the patient's prognosis is poor acute phase patients
  • Comatose state lasting more than 3 days
  • Comatose patients with any 4 of the following on day 3 of a stroke have 97% mortality by 2 months:
    • Abnormal brain stem response
    • Absent verbal response
    • No response to pain
    • Serum creatinine of more 1.5 mg/dl
    • Age 70 or more
    • Dysphagia severe enough to prevent them from receiving food or fluids

All other conditions

  • The patient has a life-limiting condition
  • The patient and family have been informed that the condition is life-limiting
  • There is documentation of clinical progression of the disease
    • serial physician assessment
    • laboratory studies
    • radiologic or other studies
    • multiple ER visits
    • inpatient hospitalizations
    • home health nursing assessment if patient is homebound
  • There's a recent decline in functional status, such as:
    • requires considerable assistance and frequent medical care
    • is disabled, requires special care and assistance, is unable to care for self, disease may be progressing rapidly
    • Severely disabled, although death is not imminent
    • Very sick, active supportive treatment is necessary
    • Moribund, fatal processes progressing rapidly
    • Patient is dependent in at least 3 of these activities: bathing, dressing, feeding, transfers, continence of urine and stool, ambulation to bathroom
    • recent impaired nutritional status, as evidenced by unintentional, progressive weight loss of 10% over past six months, or serum albumin less than 2.5 gh/dl (may be helpful prognostic indicator but should not be used by itself)