March 18, 2019

I can just see the eyes rolling as you read the title, and think “sure, social work”, but, please hear me out.

The emphasis on value-based results and achieving patient outcomes has led much of healthcare to understand that ‘health’ is more than an individual’s physical status.  The health of the body is entwined with mental health and psychosocial health- the interrelationship of one’s family, community, and a variety of social factors impact health and the ability to achieve outcomes.  The emerging emphasis on “social determinants of health” reinforces how our view of health and intervention is ever-broadening.

Consider your home health, hospice, private duty, or palliative care patients.  Few of these individuals are less than very complex.  In-home and community care no one experiences disease in isolation.  Lives are products of family relationships, financial status, and how we define ourselves through our job or our role in the family.  The response of caregivers/family either supports an individual’s recovery or comfort or becomes a barrier.  The role of the professional discipline of healthcare social work is to intervene when an individual, family, caregivers, or a social situation is a barrier to your team effectively delivering care or services to achieve the patient’s desired outcome.

How many visits by your nurses are primarily for psychosocial reasons?  Could a social worker help the team more effectively interact or respond to the individual patient or manage a difficult caregiver or family member?  Could your nurses be less distracted with patient calls from someone who has one more question who may be lonely or frightened? If a social worker called/reached out to that patient or connected her with community resources how much time could be freed, and stress reduced?  How often could your team benefit from a behavioral contract with a difficult patient, or a professional who could help intervene and determine what is behind a patient’s statements of not wanting to live?  Suicide ideation or depression that could be managed with medication?

Healthcare social workers can be a positive resource for your nursing or rehabilitation team who face the challenges of home and community care in the home alone.  Any of us can benefit from another perspective of what is going on in the home, or the patient or family response that just doesn’t seem right. This interdisciplinary approach is the ‘glue’ of successful hospice and palliative care teams, and now physician practices and health insurance putting together the pieces of improving health.

Think healthcare social workers are just too expensive or you have never heard of them? Check out this bureau of labor statistics information site and the map about healthcare social workers nationwide, just copy and paste the link into your browser:  Use the passion and purpose of healthcare social workers.

Barbara McCann, a healthcare social worker.