If you have chronic disease or are the parent of a child with chronic disease, it is possible that you have encountered a social worker who either meets with you, or oversees you/your family on a regular basis to ensure that things are going well, often especially when making the adjustment to a new diagnosis. Social workers help to promote the wellbeing of the whole person—while the most common position of social workers we may think of is those in child protection and overseeing complicated family situations, social workers can also work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings. Like pharmacists, a social worker may be a valuable part of your healthcare team that you may not consider all of the roles or services that they are able to provide for you.
The Canadian Association of Social Workers explains that social work and social workers “[focus] upon improving the health and social well-being of individuals, families, groups and communities.”  Social workers do not only aim to figure out and fix (or lessen the burden of) issues that can impact physical, social and mental health issues, they also often work to prevent these issues from happening in the first place . This last role is one that is often paramount in healthcare settings, especially when focusing on a new chronic disease diagnosis in an adult or a child, during the many phases of growth for children and families, and during life changes for adults with chronic health issues.
Health social workers, for instance, may ensure a person newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes has support at home in adjusting to their diagnosis and how they will pay for insulin, injection supplies, and blood glucose testing supplies. A health social worker for someone with cancer may help to ensure they have rides to and from chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy appointments. My own experience is with my friend’s transplant social worker, who is helping to prepare and train potential caregivers for following his lung transplant, when he will need 6 weeks of 24 hour care following his release from the hospital. Even though I am in Canada and she is in California, she—and other social workers—are flexible with the varying situations that patients may be in, and work to create a plan that fits their needs, no matter what condition or medical need is being addressed.
Health social workers fill a vital role, in that they focus on the person that they are working with and their unique needs, as with my friend’s transplant situation , as well as their other medical team members and family or caregivers. These social workers ensure things are going as smoothly as possible despite the chaos of chronic disease, and to ensure the person with a chronic disease is as well prepared and becomes as well adjusted as possible so that they can fulfill the other roles of their life—employment, family obligations like parenting or caregiving, and recreational activities, for example. This is done through education (often collaborative between the social worker and other care team members), counselling and psychotherapy—both implemented by the social worker and as a team with psychologists or other therapists, health promotion programs, educating the community in general and/or a person’s immediate circle of connections about their needs. Health social workers may also help educate schools or childcare centres on the psychosocial and physical needs of kids with chronic disease or complex medical needs, allowing the child to lead as typical of a life as possible.
Here at My Identity Doctor, on World Social Work Day coming up on March 15, we’d like to thank social workers for everything that they do to ensure people can thrive in difficult circumstances. One way social workers may help us is by recommending that the clients and patients they see are wearing medical ID jewelry to stay safe. If you are a health social worker and would like My Identity Doctor medical ID brochures or postcards to provide your clients, we are happy to provide these to you! Please e-mail Jon at info [at] MyIdentityDoctor.com and we’ll be happy to help!