Social Workers Are Vital Members of the Healthcare Community

Updated on November 28, 2022

Social workers play a crucial role in healthcare and provide a variety of supports to other healthcare workers such as nurses and doctors. They usually play an important role in psychosocial assessments and can bridge the gap between what is more of a social role than a medical role. This reduces the amount of overlap and provides a much more streamlined and efficient plan of care when working with a team. 

What services do healthcare social workers provide?

  • Psychosocial assessment: Social workers screen patients for high risks in the area they work, such as mental health services or addiction. They also determine if there is a need for particular services and if the patient is eligible. They are instrumental in assessing the support available for each patient and helping find additional support should it be required. 
  • Counseling/psychotherapy: Social workers do an assessment of the social and cultural factors that can affect a patient’s mental and physical health status so that they can provide proper support or intervention if needed. They can also counsel on advanced coping strategies when a patient or their family is trying to cope with loss or grief. They are trained in dealing with mental health concerns such as anger, depression or anxiety.
  • Patient/family education: Healthcare social workers work with the family to educate them and the patient on types of treatments, characteristics of illnesses, how the illness can affect the household and relationships, and provide direction on coping with any transitions needed to modify the patient’s lifestyle. This is why it is so important to look into continuing education once you have established yourself as a healthcare social worker. 
  • Resource counseling and discharge planning: When a patient is discharged from a hospital or treatment center, the healthcare support worker can assess for any issues that may act as barriers to them being discharged. They are aware of resources available to the patient at home and can refer them and their families to organizations that can help. This type of service reduces the number of patients who are readmitted to care because of inadequate support at home. 
  • Outpatient supportive care: The care provided to patients once they leave the facility is just as important as the care they receive while in treatment. The role of the social worker can reduce the amount of readmitted patients by ensuring that the patient is complying with medication schedules, that the supports in place are adequate or being adhered to, and checking to make sure that there is nothing preventing the patient from recuperating at home. 
  • Consultation: Social workers can also communicate with the medical team if they feel that intervention is needed before the situation becomes a crisis. 

There are close to 174,000 healthcare social workers in the US who play crucial roles in various areas such as psychosocial support for families of terminally ill patients, providing advice to family caregivers, referrals and counseling. These social workers may also aid in the case management of certain individuals who may require interventions or care management to help with their recovery, prevent disease, and address issues of accessibility to necessary treatment. 

When do healthcare social workers get involved with patients?

  • When a patient has experienced a completely life-altering change in their abilities or a significant loss in mobility and the change will require a drastic shift in lifestyle. Social workers are trained to help patients and their families adjust to the ‘new normal’ they will be facing and to offer support and education to guide them. 
  • When a patient has suffered severe cognitive impairment and they are unable to take care of themselves. The social worker will assess the caregiving options and offer advice on the best course of action to take. They can also intervene if they feel that the supports put in place are inadequate for the patient’s care.
  • When there are not enough resources to take care of the patient and there are concerns that the patient will receive inadequate treatment. A social worker can step in and offer advice and help contact community organizations or government programs that can help. 
  • When the medical staff are concerned about the suggested caregiver’s ability to take care of the patient and their own health at the same time. This happens very often with aging couples where one is being taken care of by the other, but they are both in need of assistance. Social workers can look at the situation and offer advice on how to solve some problems, such as putting bars in bathtubs and walls to make the home safer, or setting up a system for pill-taking so that medication doses are not missed. They can also schedule follow-up appointments to ensure that the patient and caregiver are getting the support they need.

How do social workers contribute to healthcare goals?

  • Social workers can reduce any risk of patient litigation or dissatisfaction with service through psychosocial assessment. If a patient is cared for and supported during their stay at the facility as well as on an outpatient basis, the risk of readmittance or complications is greatly reduced. 
  • Healthcare social workers can contribute expertise and experience to help develop programs that enhance patient care and educate other members of the healthcare team. 
  • They are trained to do research on different aspects of psychosocial initiatives and can address the different areas where these needs are deficient.
  • Social workers can help teach future healthcare workers to recognize when psychosocial intervention is needed by presenting at seminars or conferences, or training on-site. They can provide medical staff with invaluable insight into when a patient needs extra support.

Healthcare social workers have invaluable training in areas of human behavior, communication and crisis counseling. They bridge the gap between doctors who provide the lifesaving treatment of patients and the patient themselves. Social workers focus on mental health and environmental stability so that the medical expertise provided can continue to heal the patient after they have received it.