What Is Palliative Care? (video)

Service supports people living with a serious illness

Service supports people living with a serious illness

Holly Yang, MD, hospice and palliative medicine specialist at Scripps, explains how palliative care is an extra layer of support for patients and families dealing with a serious illness, who pays for it and how it is different from hospice care, which focuses on end-of-life care.

Video transcript

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a subspecialty in medicine that helps patients with serious illness and their families have an extra layer of support. It’s a service that is in addition to the care that they are already getting. It is provided whether the goal of that care is curative or not, no matter the disease stage and no matter the age of the patient.


We’re there to provide both medical and symptom management, and also psychosocial and spiritual support. We’re there to provide whole patient care, so patients can do well with their medical treatments and live well.

Who provides palliative care?

Palliative care is provided by physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers and also spiritual care providers. We do it as a team, and that’s really important because each of those fields has their own expertise. We work together in an integrated way to make sure that patients’ needs are met.

What does a pallitive care physician do that is different than other physicians?

Palliative care physicians are different than the rest of the physician world in that we try very hard to integrate not just our medical expertise, but also the psychosocial and spiritual support of patients and families.


We look at the patient and family as a unit, and whatever that family makeup may be. The goal is to help provide support in a team-based way and a coordinated way to help people live well, no matter what the disease is or what the prognosis is.

If patients receive palliative care can they stilll see their primary care or other physicians?

Palliative care is provided as a consultation. We expect that patients will continue to follow with their primary physician or the doctors who are treating their primary illness. We are sort of an extra layer of support that comes alongside the other care that’s being provided. They don’t give up anything to see us. In fact, they gain extra support.

Does insurance cover palliative care?

Insurance covers palliative care services, just like they would cover any other consultation service, like the cardiologist or the orthopedic surgeon. Their insurance will cover that to help support their care. So, it’s not anything different than like another consultation.

What is the difference between palliative care and hospice care?

Palliative care is different than hospice care in that palliative care can be for anyone who has a serious illness, at any stage of disease, with any prognosis and any age. It’s really about providing an extra layer of support to the care they’re already getting, which may be curative. In fact, we may help people tolerate their curative treatments in an easier way.


Hospice care is a really important component of care for people that is focused on end-of-life care, and supporting people whose disease cannot be cured. It is a program for people who have a limited prognosis. While it is an important component of palliative care, palliative care is actually much bigger than hospice care itself.


For hospice services in San Diego County, our Scripps palliative care services refer to the many excellent organizations that exist in the community. But our palliative care services are focused in the hospital and the outpatient clinic. We can provide resources for people who are looking for hospice services.

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