The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is making monumental changes to health care. As hospitals and providers seek to meet the demands of the legislation, many are adding social workers to their team. The ACA encourages a "team-based" approach to health care that encompasses an expansive view of options. Social workers fit uniquely into this strategy. A recent forum, held at the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, was entitled "Health Care Reform: From Policy to Practice" and addressed this expanded collaboration. Consider some of the highlights.
A "Team-based" Approach
A key part of the ACA is the coordination of physical and behavioral health. Associate Professor Marylou Sudders said the ACA seeks to "treat the whole person, not just manage symptoms." Social work is a unique sector that combines clinical and policy practice. Social work "stands to make a vital contribution to this new era of health care," she continued. Social workers are problem solvers who are able to combine clinical and social services. They are in the unique position of being able to take complex problems that don't fit neatly into a medical diagnosis and come up with possible solutions.
Challenges and Solutions
The expanding role of social workers presents both challenges and solutions. The keynote speaker, former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Charles D. Baker Jr, emphasized the importance of a social worker's role in both care management and therapy. Expanding health coverage and Medicare cuts will create opportunities, as well as challenge providers and social workers. For example, the ACA creates an environment where more people are eligible for treatment. However, challenges are created when determining which treatment the patient qualifies for. Baker emphasized that "team-approach" is critical. Each health care professional must have a clearly defined role, communicate effectively with one another and have a way of measuring outcomes.
One of Baker's most memorable quotes was, "Culture matters. Culture will crush strategy." One of the biggest challenges is the culture of both social care agencies and medical practices. He encouraged an environment of problem solving and teamwork. Social workers and medical professionals broaden their perspectives when they seek out-of-the-box solutions and viewpoints of those outside their profession. Developing that culture in both the medical and behavioral arena will yield the best outcome for patients.
Is your office already utilizing the help of social workers? Could your patients benefit by expanding this role? How can you integrate social work effectively, going from a reactive process to a proactive one? This is just one area where medical practice management is seeing a major transition.