The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 is transforming the delivery of health care services in the United States by emphasizing the triple aim of improved health outcomes, greater access to care, and reduced health care costs. At the same time, more people are living longer with chronic health and behavioral health conditions as the size of the population over the age of 65, and especially over the age of 80, continues to expand. The United States also is becoming increasingly racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse with many individuals facing health disparities and inequitable access to quality services.
Due to this changing landscape of health care service delivery, social workers should be involved in all aspects of care , since addressing social needs in health care has been shown to have a significant impact on health outcomes . Social workers are well prepared to address these social determinants of health, and they can play critical roles in reducing non-medical barriers to health care access.
Several new service models that employ a team approach to care have been designed to achieve the goals of the triple aim, including Patient-Centered Medical Homes, Medicaid Health Homes, and Accountable Care Organizations. These models require the use of care coordinators, behavioral health providers, patient educators, and outreach specialists. Few professions offer the skills and training to fulfill these roles better than social work.
Although social workers do play multiple roles in the health care delivery system at all professional levels, they are not currently consistently integrated into health care teams. The social work profession also faces hindrances in terms of recruitment, retention and retirements. The next generation of social work leaders in health care needs to be prepared to implement the highest quality services and to be effective members of interdisciplinary teams. Social workers at all levels of the profession must be prepared to strengthen the delivery of health care services through evidence-based practice, testing of new practice interventions and policy innovations, and stimulating policy to ensure investment in the social work workforce and our most vulnerable populations.
Social Work HEALS was created to develop the next generation of health care social work leaders who will stand ready to lead efforts to address system-level changes, to heighten awareness of prevention and wellness, and to address the issues of structural racism that are embedded in social institutions.
1 Social Work Policy Institute. (2011). Investing in the Social Work Workforce. 2 Social Work Policy Institute. (2012). Critical Conversation-Social Work in Health and Behavioral Health Care: Visioning the Future. 3 Bachrach, D. Pfister, H., Wallis, K. & Lipson, M. (2014). Addressing Patients’ Social Needs: An Emerging Business Case for Provider Investment. 4 NASW. (2014). Standards for Social Work Practice in Health Care Settings. Draft for Member Review, Summer 2014.