Key Teamwork in a Changing Environment
Current health care reform changes promise to redefine how health care professionals provide care to patients and also how services are provided throughout the health care continuum. The role of social workers and nurse case managers alike will be an integral part of how this reform is rolled out, and the importance of these positions in the influence of case management services should be carefully considered.
As a seasoned social work case manager, I have had the privilege to work in a variety of environments in the health care continuum that have opened my eyes to a number of changes occurring in the way we deliver care. As the focus of health care reform shifts to assuring that people have access to affordable and quality care, the needs of the patients we work with will continue to shift. The skills that we possess as social workers cannot be underestimated when it comes to the assessment of our patients, and it is imperative that this expertise is acknowledged as unique to our profession.
Tough economic times have affected people everywhere, increasing the homeless rate, unemployment, economic hardships, domestic conflicts, substance abuse, and psychosocial issues of our patients. We see this every day in our own lives and in our work. Social work case managers will play an even more influential role in helping patients find resolutions and resources for issues that span beyond medical care. According to the National Association of Social Workers, “Social workers are an essential part of health care teams because they are specifically trained to address the psychosocial implications of acute and chronic illnesses, and are the largest providers of mental health services in the United States.”
Since social work case managers tend to have experience in a variety of sub-specialties, including health care, long-term care, family and social services, and psychotherapy, we are able to provide a holistic assessment of our patients and provide recommendations and resources unlike other professionals on the health care team. This expertise cannot be underestimated in relation to the importance of cohesiveness of collaboration and transitions of care as well. What we like to refer to as generalized case managers can be further redefined as a segregation of disciplines, as clearly defined in many of our larger health care organizations around the country. Social workers have been providing case management services to patients and families for over a century and there is much to be learned from this extensive history.