Hospice is derived from the word "hospitium" which is Latin for "guest house." Jeanne Garnier is considered a pioneer of hospice care, and was the first known person to use the term "hospice" in conjunction with care for the terminally ill. Garnier founded the Association Des Dames du Calvaire---a group of widows who volunteered to tend to the sick and dying---in Lyons, France, in1842. Dame Cicely Saunders established the first hospice of modern times (St. Christopher's Hospice in London) in 1967, and used the term "hospice care" to signify specialized treatment given to dying patients. Saunders believed that people needed strong relief from physical pain and other symptoms, preserve their dignity and help with psychological and spiritual pain of death.

In America, Florence Wald, Dean of Yale's School of Nursing after listening to the lecture of Dr. Dame Cicely Saunders left the deanship in 1968 and traveled to London where she worked at St. Christopher's Hospice to learn its approach to patient care and to study the hospice's organization and management. In 1974 with the help of two physicians Florence Wald founded Connecticut Hospice in Branford, on the outskirts of New Haven. As the first hospice in the United States, it was also first to offer home care and today, throughout the country, over 90% of hospice care is delivered at home.In 1983, Congress expanded Medicare coverage to include hospice care. Many private insurers, recognizing not only the compassion associated with hospice care, but also the cost effectiveness, began offering hospice benefits..Today, the basic concept of hospice remains essentially unchanged from its early days. The intent is to foster a setting where patients can get relief from pain and suffering, and their families can find support and care to enhance comfort and improve the quality of life.