Background: Palliative care programs are becoming increasingly common in U.S. hospitals. Objective: To quantify the growth of hospital based palliative care programs from 2000-2003 and identify hospital characteristics associated with the development of a palliative care program. Design and measurements: Data were obtained from the 2001-2004 American Hospital Association Annual Surveys which covered calendar years 2000-2003. We identified all programs that self-reported the presence of a hospital-owned palliative care program and acute medical and surgical beds. Multivariate logistic regression was used to identify characteristics significantly associated with the presence of a palliative care program in the 2003 survey data. Results: Overall, the number of programs increased linearly from 632 (15% of hospitals) in 2000 to 1027 (25% of hospitals) in 2003. Significant predictors associated with an increased likelihood of having a palliative care program included greater numbers of hospital beds and critical care beds, geographic region, and being an academic medical center. Compared to not-for-profit hospitals, VA hospitals were significantly more likely to have a palliative care program and city, county or state and for-profit hospitals were significantly less likely to have a program. Hospitals operated by the Catholic Church, and hospitals that owned their own hospice program were significantly more likely to have a palliative care program than non-Catholic Church-operated hospitals and hospitals without hospice programs respectively. Conclusions: Our data suggest that although growth in palliative care programs has occurred throughout the nation's hospitals, larger hospitals, academic medical centers, not-for-profit hospitals, and VA hospitals are significantly more likely to develop a program compared to other hospitals.