There are many instances when a child needs medical care and their parents may find the experience daunting, challenging and fraught with uncertainty. Apart from medical treatment and the stay in the hospital, there is also the matter of how to deal with emotional, financial and social needs.
This is where medical social workers can transform a hospital experience from a challenging one, to one where patients and their families feel that they have the support and mechanisms in place to help cope with these changes. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in the USA has marked the month of March as Social Work Month. We are taking this as an opportunity to explain the role of social workers in hospitals and briefly explain what this will mean for patients at Sidra.
Social workers assess the psychosocial functioning of patients and families and provide a myriad of supportive interventions to help them adjust to serious and life threatening illnesses. Interventions may include the following:
- Supportive counseling
- Grief counseling
- Child advocacy
- Crisis intervention
- Facilitate patient/family support groups
- Patient/family advocacy
- Community resource networking
Medical social workers operate within a multidisciplinary team with the shared goal of providing patient and family centered care. Due to the fast pace of medical settings, they work quickly to establish effective, therapeutic relationships with patients and families. These relationships are built upon mutual trust within the context of the patient’s culture, ethical beliefs and identified strengths.
Medical social work at Sidra
Sidra’s social work program will be part of a world-class healthcare system, taking a patient focused approach that aligns with the guiding tenets of social work: self-determination, client advocacy and respect for individuals.
Together with members of multidisciplinary teams, Sidra will honor the expertise, ethical values and cultural practices of colleagues, patient families and the communities in which we practice.
Sidra’s range of medical social services also includes comprehensive patient-care planning, which will ensure continuity of care after patients leave the hospital. As a healthcare institution with innovative systems integrated into its design from inception, Sidra’s care processes also includes secure tools such as online patient portals, electronic medical records and a health information exchange.
These tools will better help not only physicians but also social workers to review individual data and offer personalized advice; helping empower Sidra patients to become more engaged about conversations and actions related to their health and wellbeing.
Sidra will also have case managers who will work closely with our social workers. A case manager is responsible for assessing patients, planning and coordinating their care, and their discharge from hospital. Sidra’s case managers will ensure that a patient’s needs are met when they are discharged; making sure the transition from hospital to home is as smooth as possible. The case manager can anticipate issues that may arise and develop an established pathway in the continuum of care.
An example of social work intervention:
Penny DeGoosh who recently joined Sidra as a supervisor of social services from Vermont, USA explains the social work process:
“A common example of a social work intervention is when a child is diagnosed with cancer. This can be a very stressful experience and many parents find it hard to cope with the pressures of having to deal with not only their child’s medical condition but the impact it can have on the entire family’s personal and psychological wellbeing.
As part of facilitating the supportive intervention process, the patient family is introduced to a medical social worker – who is a member of their child’s multidisciplinary team. Together their journey begins as they navigate a multitude of issues that arise from the child’s cancer diagnosis.
Social workers provide a full spectrum of psychosocial services for the entire family as they face the many unknowns, unpredictability and demands of their child’s treatment. They facilitate education about childhood cancer which enables the parents to actively and knowledgeably participate in decision-making that will result in the best care for the child.
Beyond diagnosis, social workers promote coping for patient families through addressing the needs of siblings, potential barriers to treatment and introducing integral supportive services such as palliative care or child life services.”
By mobilizing all the available resources and taking a multidisciplinary team approach, medical social workers support patient families during treatment with the greatest possible degree of dignity and independence.