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Stanford Palliative Care Center of Excellence

Division of Primary Care and Population Health, Department of Medicine

Learn About Palliative Care, Then Talk to Your Health Care Team About It

Learn all about what palliative care is, services palliative care provides, how to get palliative, how to pay for palliative care, and more.

What is palliative care? It's different from what you may be thinking

The research is pretty clear about what people know about palliative care:  most people have never heard of it.  Of those who have, they most likely think about it only in very narrow ways, when it really is a much broader type of care.  So what is it?  And would you or someone you care about benefit from palliative care?  How can you get it?  See below and browse around these frequently asked questions to learn more.

Living as well as possible for as long as possible with a serious illness (starting as soon as possible!)

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Palliative care is available at any age and any stage of a serious illness.  You do not have to or need to give up or stop receiving any of the other treatments, procedures, medications, etc. you are getting from other doctors when you see palliative care.  You just get a palliative care team's support in addition to all of your other care.  You can think of palliative care teams as experts in treating suffering of any kind, or in improving your quality of life.  You and those close to you can get the most benefits from palliative care the sooner you get it after being diagnosed.  It is about living as well as possible for as long as possible.

Focuses on who you are as a person--your preferences, values, and goals--and matches your health care to these

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Palliative care teams give you a voice in your health care by taking time to get to know who you and those close to you are as people first (not patients).  They make sure the health care you get matches your goals, values, and preferences.

Help with advance care planning (advance health care directives/ health care power of attorney)

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Palliative care teams take time to talk to you about what matters most to you, and what you would want if you become so ill that you could not make decisions for yourself.  This whole process is called advance care planning.  Part of it involves completing an advance health care directive.  Visit our advance care planning page and advance care planning workshops page to learn more.

Expert holistic health care to ease and relieve (to "palliate") suffering, distressing symptoms, stress, and pain

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Palliative care is expert holistic health care provided by a team that is focused on easing and  relieving  pain, stress, and symptoms that can affect your whole self when living with a serious disease:  your body, mind, emotions, and spirit.  Your social and cultural selves and needs are also valued and addressed.  The team provides relief in various ways:  through medications, treatments, psychological counseling, spiritual counseling, caregiver support, connection to resources, helping with financial concerns, and more.

Expert communication: time to talk about you, your disease, treatment options, and decisions

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Palliative care providers are experts in communication, especially about hard things.  They take time to understand what you and those close to you need and want to know about your illness and treatment options, and then talk to you about it.  You can receive counseling, coaching, help in planning for the future, help with decision making, help understanding treatment options, and help in advocating for yourself from a palliative care team.  Often, your palliative care team is able to visit with you for a longer amount of time than you may be able to have with your other health care providers. 

Different from hospice, which is a type of palliative care available at the very end of life

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Palliative care and hospice are part of the same family, as both types of care aim to comfort, relieve suffering, and are provided by a team.  

Hospice is a type of palliative care that is provided at the very end of someone's life, when doctors estimate they have six months or less to live.  People who "go on hospice" no longer receive treatments, medications, and procedures meant to cure or prolong their life.  Read more about the differences between hospice and palliative care on our webpage here.

Provided by an interdisciplinary team, with YOU and those close to you at the center of the team

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Palliative care is provided by a whole team of nurses, social workers, spiritual care providers, and doctors.  While your other teams focus on treating and/or curing the direct causes of your illness, palliative care teams focus on treating all the side effects, symptoms, pain, and distress that can come when living with a serious illness.  You do not stop seeing any of your health care teams when you choose to see palliative care.  The palliative care team is just another player there to support you.  However, you and those close to you are the most important part of your health care team-- the "co-captains!"  The palliative team cares for your loved ones too.  They are invited to come to appointments, and "family meetings" are a common part of palliative care.  Our Stanford Caregiver Center also supports caregivers' needs.

Help with coordinating your care among all your healthcare providers

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Often people who have serious diseases have many doctors, specialists, and health care providers involved in their care. Palliative care providers can help coordinate the health care you are getting.  They often talk to your other health care providers and coordinate about your care.  They advocate for you to assure your goals and wishes are guiding everyone involved in caring for you.  The whole palliative care team itself meets regularly to discuss and coordinate your care as well.

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It's more than just's a relationship.  They become an extension of your family.

Would palliative care be good for me or my loved one? How do I get it? Who pays for it?

How do I know if palliative care is right for me or a loved one?

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Are you: experiencing pain, symptoms or stress that aren't getting better?  Feeling weaker and less able to go about your regular daily activities?  Going to the hospital or emergency department repeatedly for the same things?  Wanting more information about your illness, treatment options, and help making decisions and planning?  Needing psychological or spiritual support?

Are you living with a serious illness?  Examples are: cancer, heart diseases, lung diseases, liver disease, kidney disease, dementia, HIV/AIDS, and / or any other type of illness that could limit the length of your life.

If the answer is yes to either of the above, it is a good idea to ask your health care team about palliative care.

How do I get palliative care? 

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See if your health care system has palliative care.  Most hospitals and health care systems offer palliative care.  Check with this nationwide palliative care directory to see if it's available where you live:

Ask your primary health care team for some time to talk about your illness and about palliative care.  Ask for a separate appointment or time at your next appointment to talk more about your illness and about palliative care.

Explain the reasons you think palliative care would be good for you or a loved one.

Ask your health care team to refer you to a palliative care team.

Who pays for palliative care?

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Most health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover all or parts of palliative care, if received while in the hospital, outpatient clinic, rehabilitation, or skilled nursing facility.  It's covered just like other medical or hospital services.  You may have a copay for palliative care, as you do for other covered services.  Some health insurances will cover palliative care services provided in the community, outside of the hospital.

In California, MediCal covers palliative care if certain criteria are met for people living with advanced: cancer, congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and/or liver disease.

It is good to make sure you know what copays or fees you will be asked to pay. You can call your health insurance plan directly, or ask the palliative care team to help you.  

Read more about health insurance coverage at Get Palliative Care.

"You are a bridge...when you're healthy, when the bridge is sound, you can handle anything...But, if you're facing a serious health issue...the bridge starts to falter...and that's where palliative care comes in.  Palliative care provides support for your bridge.


Hear from each member of the palliative care team from Stanford and University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) about the type of care they provide: nurses, a spiritual care provider, a social worker, and doctors.