How do social workers collaborate with other medical professionals?

Social work is a varied profession that involves working with many other professionals across all areas of life. This includes medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, and caregivers. Medical care is frequently a team effort when looking at practical, long-term treatments, cures, and disease prevention. Social workers can become valuable members of those teams, collaborating with other professionals as they endeavor to find the root cause of a disease or symptom and determine the most effective treatments.

Holistic care

Increasingly, medical professionals are taking a holistic approach to patients. This means looking at the patient rather than simply a set of symptoms as it recognizes how aspects of the patient’s mental well-being, cultural background, and social status can impact health. Social workers can often provide a wealth of information about this. They often know aspects of a patient’s life such as if they live in poverty, complicated family backgrounds and cultural beliefs that can impact a patient’s physical and medical health, helping the professionals identify the root cause of their problem. The social workers are also professionals who may be working long-term with the patient and their family and so will be able to see if medical advice and therapies are being followed to aid the patient in their recovery.

Which social workers collaborate with medical professionals?

Any social worker may work with medical professionals as they do with many other professionals, from those in education to those in the criminal justice system. However, clinical social workers’ responsibilities often include providing therapeutic mental health services to individuals, families, and groups, and they will frequently collaborate with medical staff to help determine the issues that may lie at the root of a mental health condition, how best to treat it, and how to support the families of patients.

If becoming a clinical social worker is a career that interests you, then consider your training options. The master’s degree necessary for licensure can be studied in a variety of locations, but if you already have a bachelor’s in social work, you may be able to study on an advanced track to achieve your goal more quickly. A good example is the advanced standing MSW online program at Keuka College. Designed for those who already have a BSW, the course focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness, as well as emotional and other behavioral disturbances. It also includes field placements in your locality where you can hone your skills in a real-life situation. Holding an MSW opens an array of opportunities both in the field of mental health and in generalist roles and leadership positions.

Social workers in community health teams

Community health teams (CHT) are multi-disciplinary teams based in the community who provide care that often manages complex illnesses across a variety of settings, coordinating patients’ medical and social service needs. These teams utilize an array of professionals to provide patient-focused care that is cost-effective, culturally appropriate, and quality-driven. Among the professionals, social workers are key members of the team. As in any complex team that involves many different professionals from a wide variety of roles and backgrounds, good communication is key to ensuring success, and social workers will collaborate and share information with other medical professionals involved with the patient in a number of ways.

Face-to-face meeting

Social workers need to be skilled verbal communicators. When teams meet to discuss aspects of a patient’s care, the social worker needs to be able to provide information relevant to the root cause and progress of the condition clearly and concisely. They will also need to absorb the information provided by other members of the team and use it to inform their role in the patient’s care.

Patient advocate

Requiring medical treatment – particularly complex medical treatment – can be bewildering and intimidating for the patient, making it harder for them to speak up for themselves. A patient advocate can take on that role, and a social worker is a professional who is well-placed to do this. With their knowledge of the patient’s background, they can ensure the rest of the team are aware of any cultural factors that could impact a patient’s condition or how previous life events have played a role. They can also help ensure that the information provided by doctors and other medical professionals has been clearly understood by the patient, helping them to make informed decisions on their care.

Financial side of care

Many factors come into play when ensuring a patient can get the best treatment. Medical teams will focus on the physical and mental health of the patient, recommending the best treatments to ease symptoms and improve the condition, but this means they may not recognize other factors such as the affordability of treatment. Social workers can step in here, making sure the patient is claiming any assistance they are entitled to and connecting them with resources. If necessary, they can communicate any financial difficulties to medical teams so that all can work together to create a treatment plan that is both effective and affordable.

The health community

While receiving medical treatment is necessary for a patient’s physical and mental health, it can also be isolating and somehow distant from ordinary life. This can negatively impact a patient’s mental state which in turn can hinder effective treatment. Social workers can put patients in touch with physical and online community groups where patients can be in touch with others in a similar situation. They can also help when the patient is discharged so the patient has everything they need to manage any health needs themselves, particularly if it was an aspect of their lifestyle that had caused them to become ill in the first place.

Improving outcomes

The background information a social worker provides can help the medical team in diagnosing and treating a condition, helping to create treatment plans that deliver positive outcomes with long-term benefits.

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