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Learning About: Social Work In Hospital-Based Health Care

September 4, 2019

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Social workers play a critical role in hospital settings by helping patients and families address the impact of illness and treatment.

Social workers play a critical role in hospital settings by helping patients and families address the impact of illness and treatment.

Tremendous stress often stems from hospitalizations that are sudden and, at times, related to catastrophic illness or injury. Stressors such as decreased personal control, information overload, change in functional ability and reduced financial resources, can lead to a range of emotional responses such as, anxiety, anger, and depression.

Social workers, as part of the health care team, provide assessment and appropriate interventions to aid the patient in achieving optimum recovery/rehabilitation and quality of life. This includes maximizing the benefit the patient and family receive from their medical treatments and transitioning to risk-reduced, timely discharge. Social workers often have specific expertise in areas such as general medicine, emergency work, pediatrics, geriatrics, oncology, neurology, psychiatry, and palliative and end-of-life care.

Core Social Work Skills Include The Ability To:

  • Assess the biopsychosocial and ethnocultural needs of the patient, family and support system.

  • Assess community and other large system factors impacting on patient health and treatment.

  • Provide psychosocial interventions that facilitate patient and family adaptation and well-being.

  • Facilitate family and team communication.

  • Advocate for required services and navigate complex social systems.

  • Provide crisis intervention and mediate conflict.

  • Locate and negotiate potential resources.

  • Educate patients and families on effective ways to mobilize existing resources.

  • Develop and implement appropriate discharge plans

What Services Do Social Workers Provide?

Social workers in health care commonly provide individual, couple, group and family counselling, crisis intervention, patient/family education, resource referral and advocacy, in inpatient and outpatient settings. Because social workers can provide both psychosocial care and other services to the patient and family, duplication of services is reduced. A mutually developed care plan for each patient/family is based on skillful psychosocial assessment. Consultation with medical and allied health professionals is implicit in developing and implementing treatment plans.

When Should A Patient Be Referred To A Social Worker?

  • When the patient has experienced significant loss or changes in abilities that will require individual and family adjustments, such as life-threatening diagnosis; changes in functional abilities, including intellectual competency; uncertain diagnoses.

  • When there are concerns about a patient's or family's ability to adapt to health changes, such as: expressions of emotional distress/trauma; anger; or abuse/neglect or safety concerns.

  • When there are concerns a patient or family does not have adequate resources, knowledge of formal sources of support to manage or ability to negotiate complex community systems to have adequate care at home.

  • When there are concerns about the patient or family's capacity to manage their own health care in the long-term, such as difficulties in goal-setting, problem-solving, negotiating support and future care planning.

How Do Social Workers Contribute To The Overall Goals Of Healthcare Organizations?

Social workers have training in human behaviour, group process, teamwork, communication, negotiation and research. These skills can help further the broader goals of health care organizations.

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