Leveraging Clinical Social Workers to Treat the Whole Patient
In an innovative move, Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH) has created a team of three clinical social workers (CSW) to work directly with patients. The social workers visit bedsides and talk with patients, attending to their emotional and psychological needs, while physicians and nurses attend to the physical care. These patients can be a mother who just gave birth and is at risk of postpartum depression, or someone diagnosed with cancer last year, but isn’t receiving chemotherapy. The clinical staff is available to provide support to patients with complex psychosocial needs, in an effort to provide a more therapeutic and holistic approach to care management, all while working closely with the full care team.
NAH is focused on treating the whole patient, which involves their emotional well-being. Jessica Ross, one of the primary CSWs, shared that they are able to spend more time with patients to truly understand what underlying issues may be in play. While clinicians may not always be comfortable or aware of emotional factors, CSWs can address those issues more effectively.
“During any hospital stay there is this perspective that the hospital stay is the only thing going on in a patient’s life,” said Lisa Brugh, director of NAH’s care management department. “That’s not necessarily true. CSWs understand what other factors may be at play, such as loss of life, divorce, depression, guardianship, etc. Because we ask those questions, we are able to provide a holistic perspective on the patient and provide insights to the care team that can influence treatment.”
When a CSW consults with a new patient, they conduct a basic assessment to learn as much as possible. Then they work with the care team to determine the best course of action. The CSWs provide education around diagnoses, various coping methods and relaxation techniques. All of these are solution-focused strategies. Often times they see that family members can affect the decision-making process, so it’s important to properly educate them.
The social workers document their visits in Clinical Notes, which is part of Cerner Millennium. The rest of the care team can see which patients have spoken with a social worker. Another part of a CSW’s job is to work with physicians and nurses to help them understand what is going on with the patient. They provide tools and strategies to best handle situations with the patient. CSWs provide a different perspective, creating that holistic view.
In three months, the social workers have consulted with nearly 500 patients. The program is quickly expanding to provide outpatient care management and to several departments within the hospital. This innovative approach to the care team allows patients to be treated on various fronts including, physical, emotional and psychological, which helps lead to the best care possible.