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This study expands current knowledge of factors associated with initiation of hospice care by examining prehospice patterns of medical care leading to Medicare hospice use and the relationships to hospice episode characteristics. Data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study cohort offer the ability to control for measures that are not available in Medicare claims data, including marital status, nursing home residency, and education. For 1248 ARIC participants who used hospice (2006-2012), participant level trends in the number of hospital days per 30-day period over the year prior to hospice initiation were generated using a fixed-effects model. Logistic regression was used to estimate the associations between increasing hospital use over the year prior to hospice enrollment with key patient characteristics (diagnosis, age, and comorbidity) and episode characteristics (short hospice stay ending in death, long hospice stay, and live discharge). Participants with severe comorbidity (measured as a Charlson comorbidity index score greater than 5) had higher odds of increasing hospital use prior to hospice (odds ratio [OR] = 3.28, confidence interval [CI] = 2.25-4.78). Increasing hospital use did not vary by diagnosis but was associated with reduced odds of a live hospice discharge (OR = 0.55, CI = 0.34-0.88) or long stay in hospice (OR = 0.44, CI = 0.24-0.79) and increased odds of a short stay in hospice (OR = 1.92, CI = 1.36-2.71). The evidence that care patterns prior to hospice use are associated with hospice outcomes could facilitate development of interventions to improve timely hospice referral.