Social Workers Lower the Cost of Healthcare

Economic and social impact of social workers - blog header
Economic and social impact of social workers - blog header

The utilization of social workers in medical settings is nothing new, but did you know that it can lead to reduced costs for insurers, organizations, hospitals, and consumers over the long-term? The many hats that social workers wear in healthcare settings is wide, and their skill sets contribute to holistic care and well-being for all of the clients, patients, and consumers served. Whether it is the social worker helping their client complete paperwork for sliding- scale fees or the therapist talking a patient through discharge, the social worker’s role in the medical field is vital and invaluable, both for the individual as well as the industry as a whole.  

Some of the ways that enlisting social workers lower overall healthcare costs include:

A prompt response through a liaison.

Social workers provide a prompt level of response and action when practitioners and providers are unavailable. They can serve as a liaison when moving patients forward, retrieving referrals, or setting up rehab beds and service provision. This can provide a sense of security and comfort among patients, who have enough to worry about, and can lessen the doctor or practitioner’s workload which may emerge in more comprehensive care and personalized treatment. Social work often involves working in the homes of clients to assess inherent supports and strengths, so this preventative assessment with high-risk clients, like the elderly or disabled, can go a long way in avoiding long-term hospitalization and soften the sometimes difficult step-down to the next level of care.

A decrease in repeat medical visits.

It has been suggested and studied that keeping social workers on staff can result in a decrease in medical visits- which saves consumers and insurers money. Preventative care programs and assistance in making lifestyle changes can reduce the times that the individual presents to emergency care services, which is a costly approach to treatment. With individualized care and assessment, some clients may be inclined to make and attend routine appointments to address health and well-being, as opposed to visiting the ER when they are experiencing symptoms or signs of illness. Often times, external hurdles, such as transportation, play a role in why a client doesn’t go to a healthcare appointment to address these issues; social workers can connect patients with available resources that could change the way that they live as well as the way that they feel!

Addiction treatment alternatives.

Social workers play an integral role in substance abuse and addiction treatment. Social workers and case managers can work as an intermediary between clients and insurance companies, getting authorization and coverage for services to treat their addiction as well as prevent relapse during recovery. This holistic approach to treatment can result in fewer emergency room visits and get consumers access to much-needed substance abuse services, which typically require referrals and lengthy wait-lists in many regions. The incentive and diligence of social workers can create a treatment modality that works for many struggling with addiction via outpatient programming, residential rehabs, talk therapy, and inpatient detoxification. In these situations, the social worker may take on the role of an advocate, speaking on behalf of the consumer and engaging with entities that can open up treatment channels and opportunities that may not have been feasible or accessible for the individual otherwise.

A much-needed safety net.

Social workers can provide a safety net for the individuals served which sets up a continuum of care for the best recovery after a medical crisis or intervention. The outreach that social workers provide and the networks that they have access to can improve outcomes and prognoses for patients and clients facing numerous medical-related conditions or issues. This may decrease inpatient hospitalizations, instead relying on things like skilled-nursing beds, home health care, and hospice to support families through illness and medical crisis.

Case management and coordination.

Social workers can assist and organize care coordination and case management services for the client, while also offering support and direct care to help consumers with a number of tasks and procedures. This could include things like providing help in completing paperwork, developing treatment goals, communicating with providers, understanding diagnostic information, and arranging payment plans for the consumer to move forward confidently. This also helps the wheels of the facility continue to operate smoothly, ensuring an understanding of protocols, prompt insurance reviews, and opening channels of communication.

Never underestimate the value of social workers in healthcare settings and how their presence can curb healthcare costs widely. From decreasing readmissions, outpatient treatment, care coordination, and a continuum of care, the social worker’s role is ever-changing and eclectic. The effective medical social worker will bring a distinct set of skill sets to the treatment team, transitioning the consumer from inpatient care units, residential settings, or outpatient programs with ease and support.

For further reading, check out this blog post: Career Shift: Entering the Social Work Field