Stanford Palliative Care Center of Excellence

Division of Primary Care and Population Health, Department of Medicine

What is Palliative Care?

The term "Palliative Care" (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) comes from the word "palliate" which means to alleviate or reduce suffering.  

Palliative Care is specialized holistic or "whole person" medical care for people living with a serious illness and their loved ones.  It aims to provide relief from symptoms and stress of the body (physical symptoms), mind (psychological distress), and spirit (existential or spiritual concerns), while also helping with practical aspects of life.  The goal is to improve quality of life for both the person living with the illness and those close to them, such as family, friends, and caregivers.

  • It is provided for people all ages--children to older adults--at any time when there is a need for it.  Some people see palliative care teams for years, others for a shorter time.  Some people stop seeing the team when they feel better, then go back to see the team if things worsen.
  • People get palliative care while receiving all their other treatments, including treatments to cure the illness.
  • Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists.  Together, the team prescribes medications and other treatments to improve difficult symptoms, provides emotional, spiritual, and social support, provides referrals to resources as needed, and coordinates your care among all your other doctors and health care teams.
  • Palliative care teams look at the broader picture and see the person beyond the disease.  They talk with people and their loved ones about what they value and what matters most to them, and then make sure their health care plan matches those things.   This often happens in what are called "goals of care" meetings.
  • Palliative care is covered by health insurance like any other medical specialty.
  • People with the following serious illnesses can often benefit from seeing a palliative care team:  cancer, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and dementia.

What Palliative Care Is, and Why It Matters

Palliative care is person-centered care. Everything about it is bringing the person into the conversation.

How Can Palliative Care Help?

There are many benefits people experience when receiving palliative care, which have been shown by research:

  • Improved control of difficult symptoms, including those of the body (pain, shortness of breath), and of the mind (anxiety, depression)
  • Improved spiritual well-being
  • Improved satisfaction with care
  • Caregivers of people who receive palliative care feel less burdened
  • Less visits to the hospital, and if hospitalized, the stay is shorter 
  • Some people live longer when receiving palliative care


It's like I wasn't alone.  We were doing this together. Every time after seeing him, my attitude was more positive.

--Husband and father of three living with cancer, about seeing his palliative care doctor

For us, it really was a lifesaving piece. For me as a caregiver living it with her on this journey, I was able to get her all the support she and I needed.

--Daughter and caregiver, about their palliative care team

They make you comfortable and they also give you hope...they became my extended family and my emotional support.

--Young adult living with cancer, about her palliative care team

David talks about how the palliative care team took an interest in him as a person and helped him feel more comfortable.

It's not really a treatment, its a treat!

When Could Palliative Care Be Right for You or Someone Close to You?

Ask your doctor for a referral to palliative care if you or a loved one:

  • Have been diagnosed with a serious illness, such as: cancer, heart failure, kidney disease, lung disease, liver disease, dementia, etc.
  • Are living with pain, stress, or other symptoms that aren't getting better.
  • Are feeling weaker and less able to go about your regular daily activities.
  • Are going to the hospital or emergency department repeatedly for the same things.
  • Are wanting more information and time to talk about your illness or treatment options, get help in making decisions, or get help in planning for the future.  
  • Are feeling anxious, depressed, worried, overwhelmed, or feel a loss of identity.
  • Are a caregiver for someone with a serious illness, and need more information, support, and resources.


Steve Pantilat, MD describes when you should consider asking your doctor for a referral to palliative care.

If you have a serious illness [or] symptoms that are bothering you [or] wondering what the future holds.

How To Get Palliative Care at Stanford

We offer office- and telehealth-based visits with a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, and spiritual care providers. We work alongside your other doctors to help improve your quality of life and help you live as well as possible.

Call Us Directly

Contact Palliative Care directly at (650) 724-0385

Get A Referral

Ask your doctor or nurse for a referral to palliative care

Choose Your Stanford Clinic Location

Clinics available in Palo Alto, San Jose, Emeryville, and via TeleHealth

Follow Up

Follow-up appointments are available in-person, by telephone, or via video visits

All of our clinicians...are so passionate that this service is accessible for patients and families who need it.

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