Introduction: Accessing new knowledge as the evidence base for hospice and palliative care grows has specific challenges for the discipline. This study aimed to describe conversion rates of palliative and hospice care conference abstracts to journal articles and to highlight that some palliative care literature may not be retrievable because it is not indexed on bibliographic databases. Methods: Substudy A tracked the journal publication of conference abstracts selected for inclusion in a gray literature database on www.caresearch.com.au. Abstracts were included in the gray literature database following handsearching of proceedings of over 100 Australian conferences likely to have some hospice or palliative care content that were held between 1980 and 1999. Substudy B looked at indexing from first publication until 2001 of three international hospice and palliative care journals in four widely available bibliographic databases through systematic tracing of all original papers in the journals. Results: Substudy A showed that for the 1338 abstracts identified only 15.9% were published (compared to an average in health of 45%). Published abstracts were found in 78 different journals. Multiauthor abstracts and oral presentations had higher rates of conversion. Substudy B demonstrated lag time between first publication and bibliographic indexing. Even after listing, idiosyncratic noninclusions were identified. Discussion: There are limitations to retrieval of all possible literature through electronic searching of bibliographic databases. Encouraging publication in indexed journals of studies presented at conferences, promoting selection of palliative care journals for database indexing, and searching more than one bibliographic database will improve the accessibility of existing and new knowledge in hospice and palliative care.