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The Role of the Social Worker in the Management of Rheumatic Disease

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The role of the social worker is to offer a broad range of psychosocial services ranging from emotional support to referrals for community resources that can assist in enhancing quality of life and adaptation to acute and chronic rheumatic conditions. Social workers may intervene by providing individual, couple, or family counseling, offering group education or support, and by working with the community in the development of resources to assist patients in meeting their own needs. Community involvement can include advocating within the school system and workforce to ensure the needs of the patient are fulfilled in order to maximize function.

What Does The Social Worker Do?

The psychosocial assessment provides the basis for the social worker's intervention. This assessment includes evaluation of the patient's resources, strengths, and support systems, such as:

  • Education level
  • Employment
  • Family support
  • Financial situation
 
  • Impact of illness
  • Leisure interests
  • Living arrangements
  • Past coping behaviors
 

The social worker also addresses the patient's emotional response and reaction to the diagnosis of a rheumatic illness, the impact of the disease upon the family emotionally and financially, the effect on the patient's relationships and roles, and other personal or social problems that might have an impact on their illness.

The social worker provides information about psychosocial issues to the rest of the team that can guide health care professionals in their treatment, management, and interaction with the patient. The social worker can also guide the patient to negotiate the health care system more effectively. Counseling interventions are designed to maximize personal and social resources in dealing with the acute and long-term issues of managing a chronic rheumatic disease. Some social workers have specialized training in biofeedback which can be used to support patients with chronic pain and anxiety. Social workers also foster return to functional independence by identifying community resources (e.g., finances, medical insurance programs, and home care, transportation, and community service organizations) that can meet their environmental, personal, or interpersonal needs. Beyond counseling and care coordination assistance, social workers may be involved in program planning, evaluation and research.

Where Does the Social Worker Work?

The social worker provides care in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, community mental health centers, schools, family and community service agencies, home care departments, extended care facilities, and private practice settings.

What Kind Of Training Do Social Workers Have?

Social workers may have a bachelor's, masters, or doctoral degree, and most states require licensure for practice. National credentialing programs for advanced practice include the Academy of Certified Social Workers and Board Certified Diplomat in Clinical Social Work.

To Find a Rheumatologist or Rheumatology Health Professional  

For a listing of rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals in your area, click here.

For More Information: contact the Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals at (404) 633-3777 or arhp@rheumatology.org.

Updated June 2014, ARHP Practice Committee 

This patient fact sheet is provided for general education only. Individuals should consult a qualified health care provider for professional medical advice, diagnoses and treatment of a medical or health condition.

© 2014 American College of Rheumatology