Social workers are essential in many healthcare settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and private practices. There are several specializations of social work within the healthcare field, each playing an essential part in helping clients receive high-quality care and live fulfilling lives.
When someone finds themselves in a hospital or nursing home, one of the first people they interact with is often a social worker. These professionals help patients and their families cope with the various challenges associated with medical treatment, including dealing with emotional stressors, financial problems and more.
While healthcare providers are the most visible medical community members, social workers play a vital role in making healthcare more effective, efficient and accessible. They are responsible for developing, implementing, and overseeing community initiatives to improve overall health, safety and quality of life.
What is a healthcare social worker?
Healthcare social workers provide various services to patients and their families, including helping them to cope with an illness’s emotional, practical and financial challenges.
They also work to connect patients to resources within the community that can assist them through the process. For instance, suppose a patient is discharged from the hospital but lacks support at home. In that case, the social worker will coordinate appropriate placement for this individual, so they do not end up back in the hospital. They can also offer to counsel patients as they undergo treatment for cancer or other life-threatening illnesses.
You can gain these valuable skills by enrolling in a Master of Social Work degree program at colleges such as Florida State University. This program is available online and is clinically focused on qualifying you for licensure as a social worker.
Vital roles of social workers in healthcare settings
People are often surprised when they hear that social workers play an essential role in healthcare settings, but it is true. Social workers play many vital roles in hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities across the country.
Without them doing their critical work, many healthcare facilities would be unable to function fully. So, what exactly do they do, and what are some of their most important roles? Read on to learn more about the vital roles of social workers in healthcare settings.
Educate patients and families
Healthcare facilities can utilize social work to educate patients and families about taking care of themselves after a hospital visit. Educating them on what they need to do at home creates an individualized plan for their discharge.
This will help them stay healthy and avoid readmission due to a lack of knowledge about follow-up care. Education ensures that people know what needs to happen before going home from the hospital or attending clinic visits.
Advocate for patients
Social workers advocate for patients by ensuring the patient’s needs are met. This advocacy may include meeting their basic needs like housing and food or addressing their mental health requirements.
Patient advocacy includes encouraging people to speak up if they have concerns about their care and ensuring that a patient’s voice is heard regarding medical decisions.
Social workers also work closely with other caregivers, such as physicians, nurses, and psychologists, to ensure that the patient gets the best care possible. For example, social workers can help staff to identify at-risk children who may be experiencing neglect and abuse.
They may develop an intervention plan with appropriate services so these children can be healthy and safe. Patients receiving such advocacy often feel less fear and anxiety, leading to better health.
Provide emotional support
One of the social workers’ most crucial healthcare roles is providing emotional support. Emotional support can be just as valuable as medical care, and social workers are trained to provide it.
Often, clients need someone who will listen to them without judgment and help them work through their feelings. Social workers also provide emotional support by facilitating difficult conversations between patients and their families or loved ones.
They may also create personalized care plans for patients with terminal illnesses that include resources for family members, such as therapy sessions or community groups. These actions offer emotional relief and make a massive difference to quality of life.
Help patients navigate the system
Social workers are experts when it comes to navigating the healthcare system. This system may seem simple on paper, but it can be daunting and frustrating for those with limited knowledge about healthcare.
A social worker is there to help patients get appointments, fill out paperwork, and address any problems or issues that arise during treatment. They can help patients with tasks, from scheduling appointments to finding resources for their medical or emotional needs.
Some social workers also specialize in care coordination, ensuring every aspect of a patient’s care is on track. For example, they might check in with a new mental health client weekly to ensure they follow through on treatment and medication.
These services ensure patients have access to care and can maintain their quality of life throughout treatment. When clients have peace of mind knowing social workers will take care of everything, they are more likely to focus on recovery.
Screen for risk factors
The social worker’s role is to be the patient’s advocate and screen for risk factors that may put a person at higher risk for illness or injury. These factors include homelessness, a mental health disorder or substance abuse.
If a patient falls into one of these categories, the social worker will often help them find the necessary resources and treatment. The social worker may also provide case management, crisis intervention, and referrals.
They might also ensure patients have access to care when their condition limits their ability to get out of bed or leaves them without transportation.
Connect patients with resources
Social workers can help connect patients with resources to manage their healthcare needs. For example, a social worker may offer transportation services for people with chronic conditions who need assistance getting to doctor appointments.
They may also assist families who need mental health or substance abuse treatment to find the right programs. When patients receive the necessary resources, they will be more likely to comply with their care plan.
Healthcare providers should ensure that social work is integrated into the hospital team, so all staff members are aware of this valuable service. Hospitals must hire qualified social workers and provide training on using their skills appropriately within different settings.
Develop treatment plans
Social workers help to develop a treatment plan for the patient and this can include both short and long-term goals. They also provide follow-up services, such as links to other professionals who may be able to assist with referrals or even financial assistance programs.
For example, a social worker might find out what type of rehabilitation is needed post-surgery, after which they talk to a surgeon about how soon an operation could take place.
If rehabilitation is necessary, they discuss this with the patient’s insurance company and see if it is possible to get them coverage for their rehabilitation needs.
If not covered by insurance, the social worker explores the different funding options available to obtain rehabilitation for the patient’s benefit.
Advocate for policy change
Social workers have the power to advocate for policy change. They can help make a difference at the local, state, national, or global level by providing suggestions and feedback on policies and procedures.
For example, social workers can provide input on healthcare policy reform or Medicaid expansion to improve systems that impact their clients.
Social workers are also vital for advocating for those who may not be able to advocate for themselves, such as children or elderly adults with dementia. With these populations, there is often an imbalance between what they need and what they can articulate, making it challenging to identify when abuse or neglect has occurred.
Social workers also play an integral role in developing evidence-based practice guidelines for medical professionals, including researching best practices to create effective, affordable programs.
Social workers are responsible for coordinating care and ensuring that patients receive the care they require. They do this by assessing patients and their needs, developing a treatment plan, and following up with them to ensure they stick to the program.
When there is a conflict between family members or issues with regard to end-of-life care, social workers often step in to help settle disputes or assess what is best for the patient.
Social work plays a vital role in the healthcare industry. Social workers are instrumental to many healthcare settings because they address patients’ physical, emotional and social needs.
The different roles that social workers can play within a healthcare setting include hospital case managers, patient advocates and caregivers. In all cases, social workers help support and guide individuals who need assistance managing their illnesses.
With all these roles and responsibilities, it is clear why social workers are so necessary for the healthcare industry.