What is Palliative Care?

What palliative care means

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with serious illness.

This type of care offers relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life for both you and your family.

Palliative care is delivered by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists.  They work together with your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support.

It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness.  You can get it at the same time you are undergoing treatment for a cure.

-Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC)

Hear from our team members and someone who received our services about palliative care

Hear a palliative care doctor describe the specialty of palliative care

What really struck me was...they collaborated about me behind the scenes, which I thought was amazing...They worked together to really create a transformative effect on me...That's why it's really fair to call palliative care, at least in my case, a game changer.

-Tim Handley, Palliative Care Advocate 

There are many kinds of doctors. You can be a specialist in the heart, you're a cardiologist. You can be a specialist in cancer, you're an oncologist. I specialize in quality of life, so I'm a palliative care doctor.

-Torrey Simmons, MD, PhD, MHS

What types of services does palliative care provide?

Palliative care helps treat mind, body, and spirit

With palliative care, you can get relief from symptoms such as pain, and feeling short of breath.  It also helps with fatigue, constipation, nausea, low appetite, and trouble sleeping.  It helps you carry on with your daily life.

Palliative care improves your ability to go through medical treatments.  It helps you better understand your condition and your choices for medical care.  In short, you can expect the best possible quality of life.

Services include:

  • Expert help easing pain and symptoms from specially trained doctors and nurses
  • Care coordination with your current doctors and healthcare team to give you an extra layer of support
  • Help to develop your individual plan to relieve distressing symptoms
  • Practical help to complete insurance forms, and other forms to access community resources like housing, food, etc. 
  • Guidance to help you make decisions about your health care 
  • Help and advice to complete an advance health care directive.  This makes your family and doctors aware of the kind of care you want.  Click here to learn more.
  • Spiritual care, if you want it, as you and your family deal with the stress of your illness

Who provides palliative care?

Palliative care is provided by a team 

Our palliative care team has members with multiple kinds of training.  They include doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers, spiritual care providers, and medical assistants. We know that living with a serious illness can raise issues that take a team to solve.

The palliative care team works as a partner with your other doctors to give you and your family an extra layer of support.  The team delivers expert symptom management.  It makes extra time to talk over your goals and treatment options.  The team can also help you find your way through the health system.

Palliative care is not the same as hospice

Palliative care is much broader than hospice

You can receive palliative care regardless of your chances for recovery or the stage of your disease.

Palliative care focuses on improving the quality of life for anyone living with a serious illness and their family.  Most often, it is delivered while you get treatments meant to cure or improve your illness.

For example, if you are living with cancer, you can get palliative care while you still see your cancer doctor.  You can get palliative care while you get chemotherapy or other treatments for your cancer.

Hospice is a program that is for people who may have less than 6 months to live.  Hospice has a philosophy of care focused on comfort and quality of life.  It is a set of services often included as a health insurance benefit.

While all hospice is palliative care, not all palliative care is hospice.

In the first 15 minutes of this talk, Dr. Winnie Teuteberg, a palliative care doctor and internal medicine doctor at Stanford, discusses what palliative care is, and how it is different from hospice.

We get time to get to know our patients.  Our job is really to know our patients, find out who they are, what makes them tick, what’s important to them, because we want to know who is this person living with this illness, and how can we make their life better.