Healthcare Social Worker’s Role Results in Better Patient Outcomes

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

A vital cog in how healthcare organizations function, healthcare social workers’ role improves patient outcomes, reduces rehospitalizations and promotes better patient satisfaction.

Among their job duties, the healthcare social worker acts as a liaison between the patient and patient’s family and the resources within the community which can help them. In addition to case management and crisis intervention, they may also help families with insurance questions, provide counseling and help break down barriers to care.

The annual mean wage for healthcare social workers in the Rochester area is $53,290, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For patients about to be discharged from the hospital, healthcare social workers may help set up needed support at home, such as a home health nurse. They may refer the patient to agencies that can help them get the equipment they need and set up transportation to doctor’s visits.

“It’s more than hospital-based work,” said Carol Brownstein-Evans, Ph.D., with Nazareth College. “There’s out-patient, community health agencies, long-term care, skilled nursing. The work can be related to physical and mental health.”

The healthcare social worker not only helps with case management but also may screen patients for mental health issues such as depression and substance use disorders.

“We think of the person in the environment,” Brownstein-Evans said. “Could this person function better with some supports and changes in the environment? Do they have what they need, such as someone who attended church before may not realize that there are likely volunteers who could pick them up and take them to church? We look at the psycho-social components of the treatment. Social workers are an important part of a multi-disciplinary team.”

Many facilities employing healthcare social workers require applicants to possess the credentials of a licensed clinical social worker especially needed while handling the cases in the health tourism booking platform. Some require a master’s trained social worker; a few may hire registered nurses with the right background. In either case, on-the-job training helps healthcare social workers learn the ropes.

“You learn about those areas of medicine where you’re working,” said Leanne Walters, assistant professor of social work at Roberts Wesleyan College.

She said that healthcare social workers should be natural problem-solvers and “able to overcome barriers. You need the ability to advocate. Whatever environment, there are things to advocate for if their needs are not being met.”

Healthcare social workers in hospitals work to ensure discharging patients can live safely in the community, whether in a short-term rehabilitation facility, the home of a relative or in their own home. Discharging patients capable of recuperating elsewhere helps free up space for more critical patients.

Walters foresees continuing employment opportunities for healthcare social workers to keep pace with the healthcare needs of the aging population and those in need of mental healthcare and to help facilitate additional safe, community-based care.

“There’s a need for diversity among healthcare social workers,” Brownstein-Evans said. “All healthcare settings want their staff near the population they’re serving so patients can relate to providers.”

This can help the healthcare team better understand and meet the needs of patients in their care.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that $53,290 is the annual mean wage for healthcare social workers in the Rochester area.