When you’re dealing with a serious illness or injury, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Whether you or your loved one is receiving care in the hospital or at a doctor’s office, it can feel hard to know what to do at every step of the way. For example, you might not know what questions to ask your doctors or how to coordinate your care among specialists. Or maybe you’re worried about how to manage care after a hospital stay. Although the tips and tools provided by the ZaggoCare System will help you navigate the medical world, there are times when you need help from an experienced professional. Medical social workers to the rescue! How can a medical social worker help you? They can help you navigate your challenging, stressful medical journey.
What exactly is a medical social worker?
Medical social workers work in a variety of medical settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, hospices, long-term care facilities, and community health agencies. Most medical social workers have a master’s degree in social work (MSW). And sometimes these professionals have the title of case/care manager.
No matter the title, their goal is to support patients (and families) dealing with serious and/or chronic medical conditions. They use crisis management skills, along with an extensive knowledge of the American healthcare system, the medical insurance industry, and the law, to provide a multi-faceted approach to helping patients and families.
Some medical social workers are very specialized – for example, some only work with cancer patients and other serve a wide variety of patients. Above all, medical social workers often collaborate as part of an interdisciplinary team with other medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, discharge coordinators and physical therapists.
Medical social workers advocate for their patients.
We could all use someone on our side, working hard on our behalf. But when you are dealing with a serious medical condition, you could use an advocate more than ever. Medical social workers regularly advocate for their patients. For instance, they work with the medical team to ensure the team follows a patient’s wishes.
How can a medical social worker help you?
Medical social workers can work with you regarding health-related issues and concerns. Firstly, the social worker will perform a comprehensive assessment of your social, emotional, environmental, financial, and support needs. Secondly, he/she will alert members of your medical team about any factors that could impact your health, recovery and well-being. Additionally, medical social workers can support you with counseling, through support groups and/or one-on-one counseling sessions.
How can a medical social worker help? Many ways! For example, they can help by:
- Facilitating communication with treatment providers.
- Educating and providing support regarding a new diagnosis.
- Helping you determine appropriate health care decisions.
- Helping you follow complicated medication regimens.
- Meeting with you and your family to facilitate communication about difficult topics.
- Restoring successful social functioning for you and your family.
- Assisting with challenging decisions.
- Providing support and information on how to deal with a chronic or fatal illness or a traumatic injury.
- Identifying resources, including other treatment providers, transportation, temporary housing, support groups and visiting nurses.
- Providing information and support around palliative care, hospice care, and end of life issues.
- Providing grief counseling.
Medical social workers help hospitalized patients
Are you or loved one in the hospital? Or expecting a hospital stay after a planned procedure? For hospitalized patients, the social worker is a key member of the team coordinating your discharge. Whether you (or your loved one) are transferring to a long-term care facility or going home, the social worker will coordinate with your medical team and your family (or other supporters) to create a discharge plan. A medical social worker works to make sure you will receive appropriate, adequate care at your next location, before your discharge.
While coordinating your discharge, the social worker should:
- Discuss health-related care needs to ensure that you and/or family can manage required tasks.
- Arrange for in-home medical equipment.
- Arrange for home care services.
- Work with your family and any other service provider to develop a care plan for next location.
- Coordinate transportation to the next location.
- Coordinate follow-up treatments.
- Help you with health-related expenses. For instance, they can help you access financial assistance. Additionally, they may work with your insurer to determine your coverage and to advocate for you.
- Refer you to a variety of community-based social service agencies and programs.
For more information on hospital discharges and nursing homes, read these posts:
- Tips for Hospital Discharges
- Medication Errors Are Common at Hospital Discharge
- Majority of Patients Don’t Understand Discharge Instructions
- Nursing Home Safety Issues
- How to Choose a Nursing Home.
Should you ask for the services of a medical social worker?
Certainly, most, if not all, patients and families would benefit from the services of a medical social worker. However, for certain groups of patients, the needs are greater.
For example, patients in the following situations would benefit greatly from working with a medical social worker:
How do you access this kind of help?
In some cases, your doctor may request social work services. In other healthcare settings, all patients receive social work support. For instance, all families in the pediatric clinic treating my son Zach received social work services. In addition, if you or your loved one is in the hospital, a social worker will likely be involved in coordinating the discharge plan. Certainly, if you feel that you need a social worker, you should ask your doctor.
Is this a free service?
Meeting with a hospital social worker is generally free for hospital patients or covered by your insurance, even if you are an outpatient. However, ask about payment so you don’t get an unexpected bill.