How to Get Started With Palliative Care



September 21, 2020

Making the decision to receive palliative care alongside a terminal illness is a great way to improve quality of life and manage symptoms. Getting started with palliative care is less complicated than people often think.

Where is Palliative Care Offered?

Palliative care can be provided in a variety of settings such as hospitals, long term care facilities, health clinics, hospices, and even in your own home. The palliative care team can also see patients, family, and caregivers in intensive care units, emergency rooms, and treatment centers. 

Even though the palliative care team is based in a hospital or clinic, it is becoming more common for it to be based in the outpatient setting such as your own home. While at home, you may take medication and use other methods that are part of your palliative care treatment plan. The palliative care team may also support your caregivers as they take care of your needs.

Talking to Your Doctor About Palliative Care

The first step in receiving palliative care is to talk to your own doctor or cancer treatment team. In most cases, they can offer and start palliative care services. However, if palliative care is not offered, you may have to ask your doctor for a referral to a specialized palliative care provider/palliative care centers. Here are some important speaking points when discussing palliative care with your doctor:

  • Tell your doctor you are thinking about palliative care, and ask where palliative care is available in your area.

  • Discuss what quality of life means to you. This may include being able to spend time with loved ones, relief from any pain and other symptoms, having the ability to make your own decisions for care, and where you prefer to be treated (at home vs. the hospital).

  • Be sure your doctor is aware of any personal, religious or cultural beliefs, values or practices that are important to consider in your treatment decisions.

  • Ask what resources they recommend so that you can learn more about palliative care

  • Bring up how you can pay for palliative care 

Finding Palliative Care Services

In most cases, your doctor will refer you to a palliative care center. However, there are also many resources such as and National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization that help find palliative care providers. 

It is important that, when choosing a palliative care program, you consider differences between providers that might make a particular one a better choice for you over others. Finding hospice care providers or programs that best meet your needs may take some time and searching, but it’s time well spent.