Social workers play an important role on care teams, because they can do psychosocial assessments for patients. Often these assessments identify outstanding challenges that a patient is facing. Then social workers can work collaboratively with the patient and provider to provide guidance and education to improve patient experience and outcome. For those who do not regularly work with medical social workers, here is an overview of their role.
What Settings Do They Work In?
Depending on the organization, social workers can be found in outpatient and inpatient settings. One social worker may be on staff at a clinic with a vulnerable population. Other social workers may work with a variety clinics to support patients as they move between departments. Precise staffing of social workers depends on the needs throughout the individual health care organization. Nursing homes also have social workers who support the facility residents and their families throughout their stay.
What Do They Do?
Usually, social workers only see the patients who have been referred to them. During the first conversation with a patient, a social worker typically does a psychosocial assessment. The results of this assessment help to determine what support the patient needs from the social worker. Although patients will need different levels of support, social workers will usually assist with care coordination and behavioral health services.
Care coordination needs vary. Some patients will seek continuing care within the same organization. Others will return to their established provider. Another group of patients will need to identify new providers to transition care to. While specifics differ, social workers can help coordinate a patient’s care in each of these scenarios. When needed, they will guide the patient through the organization’s medical records release process. Additionally social workers may contact outside organizations to discuss a patient’s medical care or identify appropriate providers to transition care to.
After an initial assessment, a social worker may offer continuing behavioral health services to a patient depending on their needs. As a part of an interdisciplinary medical team, social workers will work collaboratively with other providers to identify and address issues that need continuing support.
What’s Their Educational Background?
Social workers in health care settings typically have a master’s degree in social work. To provide clinical care, they must be licensed with the state’s department of health.
By providing psychosocial assessments, social workers can identify challenges and support a patient as they navigate the health care system. The insights from a medical social worker can help patients achieve better outcomes.
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Social Workers. United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 December 2015, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm. Accessed February 11, 2017.
Social Work Profession. National Association of Social Workers, https://www.socialworkers.org/pressroom/features/general/profession.asp. Accessed February 11, 2017.