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The Social Worker in the Age of Telehealth

Need, Methods and Challenges Examined

The need for a social worker is increasing in the United States, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the number of social worker jobs will increase faster than the average number of jobs between 2018 and 2028. It estimates that there will be an increase of more than 81,000 new social worker jobs during this period.

We’re not only witnessing an increase in the number of social worker jobs available. We’re also seeing a different type of social worker emerge – the telehealth social worker, who meets clients virtually, often via video connection. Phone and text are also methods of connecting social worker to client.

In this article, we examine why telehealth social work is increasing, the types of consultation commonly offered, and some of the challenges you might face as a telehealth social worker.

The Need for Social Workers in Telehealth

When we consider why telehealth social workers are becoming more in-demand, we can dissect into three elements: location; client-specific; provider-specific.

·      Location

Accessibility to social work services is, perhaps, the main factor driving telehealth in this area. Providers are not always where the person in need is. Specific issues centering on location include rural areas; the burden of travel; and poor public transport.

·      Client-specific

Factors that limit the ability for a person to visit or be visited in person include client-specific issues. For example, the client may be disabled, or have strict work schedules, or be in hospital.

·      Provider-specific

Finally, the type of specialist needed may not be available close to the client. This is especially true of child psychiatrists, with only a few thousand in the country. The role of specialization must also be considered when matching client to social worker – and working with children and adolescents is very different to working with adults.

How Do Telehealth Social Workers Work with Clients?

Telehealth social workers usually contact their clients either by phone or video technology. Clients may be referred from primary care providers, and this may include a consultation with either the physician with or without their patient present.

Many social workers and psychiatrists conduct their tele visits in a similar fashion to how they would conduct them were they meeting in person – they ‘see’ their client regularly, commonly once every week or fortnight.

Increasingly, tele visit routines are innovating. Becoming popular is the more regular but shorter interactions with the client. Without telehealth, this type of program would probably be inconvenient and unpractical for the client. Such a program may include check-in by text every other day, or a 10-minute video call twice each week. This provides a more consistent and constant approach and a deeper connection between the practitioner and their client.

What Challenges Must You Overcome as a Telehealth Social Worker?

There are challenges in every healthcare job, and working as a social worker in telehealth is no different. One of these is payment. For example, clients who are on Medicare are usually restricted to using telehealth if they live in a rural area. Though COVID-19 has removed many such restrictions, it remains to be seen if the relaxation of rules will continue after the pandemic is beaten.

Among the main challenges you face as a telehealth social worker are:

·      Licensing

Typically, you will need to be licensed in the state in which your client lives. While some states now allow social workers to work with clients from anywhere in the country, many are still tied to their old licensing regulations, so you will need to ensure you are correctly licensed before working with out-of-state clients.

·      Technology

Technology is constantly evolving, and it can be difficult to keep up with the pace of change. Different providers may use different technologies to connect with clients, and you’ll need to adapt to these and to changes. You may need to have specific training to ensure technological competence.

·      Ethics

Finally, the role of ethics is critical in telehealth. You are dealing with confidential information. You’ll need to ensure that any information and data is secure from unauthorized access, and that your computers and other communication devices are protected against theft or loss.

In summary

Social work is a growing role in our society. With a shortage of skilled social workers available, there is upward pressure on salaries. Employing telehealth strategies can help to provide services to more clients more efficiently, and allows innovation of those services more effectively.

There are, of course, challenges to working in a telehealth role, but for those who overcome these, the potential to work with a variety of clients around the country in your area of specialization promises a rewarding career.

If you are considering stepping into social work in a telehealth role, contact Telehealth Gigs today