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Hospital or medical social workers provide help and support to patients with a variety of medical problems. Patients admitted to the hospital may require a social worker for psychosocial problems. These can be related to illness or medical issues or they may be related to a psychosocial problem, such as mental illness or homelessness. Given the complexity of the hospital setting, medical social workers must fulfill a variety of duties.
Collaboration with health care providers is a key duty for the medical social worker. This is done as part of an interdisciplinary treatment team, which includes professionals such as nurses, doctors, physician assistants and physical therapists. The social worker helps to facilitate communication between team members and the patient, as well as the patient’s family. Since different providers have different points of view, communication can be a challenge, but it is up to the social worker to ease this process so that the patient receives the best possible care.
Being in the hospital can be stressful. For this reason, social workers provide supportive counseling to patients and their families. Social workers can help patients facing addiction and chronic pain, as well as those coping with terminal illness, death, disability, and social and mental health problems. Social workers may offer individual and family counseling or group counseling for patients dealing with similar problems. Social workers are trained to treat behavioral and mental health issues, as well as counseling and therapeutic techniques, allowing them to offer clinical and mental health services when needed.
Medical social workers act as advocates on behalf of the patient. This may include making the patient’s wishes known to the family and treatment team, or making sure the patient receives accurate information about his care and treatment. Social workers are particularly involved in assisting patients in creating advanced directives, which offer clear instructions as to the patient’s wishes in terms of medical end-of-life decision-making.
Medical social workers fulfill duties as case managers, coordinating patient care. This can include connecting patients with needed social services. For instance, a social worker may help a homeless patient find a shelter or housing program. Medical social workers are often involved in the process of discharge planning as well as coordinating after-care services such as at-home care, follow-up appointments or finding the patient a rehabilitation facility, if needed.