The Palliative Care Team

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on September 22, 2023
3 min read

Every person and every illness is unique. After you've asked your primary care doctor for a referral, you'll meet with your palliative care team to discuss your goals and desires during your illness.

Once the members of your palliative care team understand your needs, they will work with your primary care doctor and other experts to create an individualized palliative care plan. The goals are:

  • Relieve pain and other symptoms
  • Address your emotional and spiritual concerns, and those of your caregivers
  • Coordinate your care
  • Improve your quality of life during your illness

For example, a palliative care doctor may prescribe medications and other therapies to treat pain, constipation, shortness of breath, and other symptoms. A social worker may coordinate your care and serve as an advocate on behalf of you and your family. A chaplain may offer spiritual support and help you to explore your beliefs and values.

The palliative care team can also help your family by offering medical information, emotional support, and home care assistance.

In general, the interdisciplinary palliative care team includes a doctor, a nurse, and a social worker. But other experts often fill out the team, according to a patient's needs. These include chaplains, counselors, pharmacists, dietitians, rehabilitation specialists, physical therapists, music and art therapists, and home health aides.

There's no single model for a palliative care team. Hospitals have their own types of palliative care programs. Often, large hospitals have more extensive palliative care services, but smaller hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices also offer palliative care.

Your palliative care team can provide the following services:

  • Expert treatment of pain and other symptoms
  • Open discussion about treatment choices for your illness (including difficult and complex choices) and management of your symptoms
  • Coordination of your care with all of your health care providers
  • Help with navigating the health care system
  • Help with making a smooth transition from the hospital to home care or a nursing home
  • Emotional, spiritual, and practical support for you and your family

Here are questions to ask your palliative care team, according to the Center to Advance Palliative Care:

  • What can I expect from palliative care?
  • Where will I receive my care (for example, in the hospital, home, nursing home, or hospice?)
  • Who will be part of my palliative care team?
  • What are your recommendations for my care?
  • What will you do if I experience severe pain or uncomfortable symptoms?
  • How will you communicate with my other doctors?
  • What decisions will my family or I need to make?
  • Will you be able to help explain the issues involved in making these decisions?
  • Will you communicate candidly about my illness with me and my family?
  • What support will you provide to my family or caregivers?
  • Will you still be involved in my care when I'm discharged from the hospital?
  • Can you explain the difference between hospice and palliative care?
  • Will you still be available to me throughout my care, including hospice, if needed?
  • What resources do you recommend for me to learn more about palliative care?