Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-St. Joseph started a palliative care program in 2004 with the goal of improving care for patients near the end of their lives. The result: More patients are receiving hospice care in their homes and similar settings, and fewer patients are spending the final days of their lives in the hospital. From 2003 through 2007, the hospital more than doubled the number of days that chronically ill Medicare patients received hospice care in the last six months of their lives. The use of hospice care increased even more - 141% by the same measure - at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. Most people would rather die at home, surrounded by loved ones, than in a hospital, attached to tubes and monitors. And a new report by the Dartmouth Atlas Project shows that those Milwaukee hospitals are part of an emerging trend to heed patients' preferences for the care they receive in their last days. The report found that chronically ill patients nationally were less likely to die in a hospital and more likely to receive hospice care in 2007, the most recent year for which data were available, than in 2003.