Social Workers and Their Impact on Patient Care

This March, the healthcare community celebrates National Social Worker Month, a time to honor and appreciate the hard work and dedication of social workers in the medical field and beyond. Their advocacy and guidance make an enormous difference in lives of patients as they pursue their road to healing, whatever that looks like for each individual.

In the context of medical care, social workers can perform a variety of duties, all centered on addressing all the facets of patient needs and their care planning. In general, social workers will work to better understand the patient’s history, current needs, and ongoing preferences, while also working with their medical team and personal support. Their duties, at any given time, might include:

  • Assessing a patient’s history
  • Answering questions and ensuring the patient (and their support) is well-informed
  • Advocating for the patient
  • Assisting with financial plans and case management
  • Providing counseling support
  • Developing discharge and long-term care plans

Today’s medical field, in particular, makes it clear why social workers can have such a positive impact on patient care. Acute care medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and other specialists, are often stretched very thin, particularly with a higher-than-usual attrition rate from the field over the last few years. They simply are not able to provide all facets of care, nor can they be expected to be.

Patients who work with social workers, however, may find themselves enjoying better outcomes – and organizations may reap those benefits, too. One 2017 study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found a correlation between health outcomes and social work, with the potential for social work to also improve service utilization and cost savings. Medical professionals of any stripe tend to know from experience that well-rounded care is associated with better patient outcomes; those patients with more information, support, and resources geared at long-term health are more likely to remain healthy and consider their medical experience a success. That’s at the core of medical social workers: ensuring that patients are well-informed and have access to all aspects of the care they need to thrive.

Social Work Field is Growing

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the social work field is growing and is only projected to keep expanding. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the field will grow approximately nine percent between 2021 and 2031, significantly faster than the average (five percent) for all occupations. For social workers specifically working in the healthcare field, that growth is expected to be even higher, at eleven percent over the decade. That rate ties as the highest among all social work specialties, alongside mental health and substance abuse social workers.

Navigating experiences in the healthcare system can be stressful for anyone, but dedicated, experienced social workers make an enormous difference for organizations and patients alike. Hiring social workers can have a notable impact on patient care, success, and satisfaction, as well as improving the overall standards and culture at a given organization. We set aside a little extra time in March to recognize their contributions, but their work deserves plenty of appreciation all year!

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