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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU: Health Social Workers Key to ACA Implementation

Health social workers are playing a pivotal role in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, emphasizing the importance of training them to communicate across professional boundaries, say the authors of a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

[Photo: Dr. Sarah Gehlert]

The study is the first to examine the role of social workers in “accountable care organizations,” interdisciplinary teams of Medicare providers. The teams are responsible for the overall care of patients and the ACA allows them to share in the cost savings that result from more efficient, quality care.

Researchers surveyed 167 social workers employed by accountable care organizations.  They found that the social workers played key roles in areas such as case management/coordination, steps to prevent readmissions and behavioral health.  Fewer social workers were employed in the South and the Southeast than in other regions of the U.S.

“Most important for ensuring the future of health social work is educating the next generation of health social workers to serve in the new health care arena,” wrote Dr. Sarah Gehlert, E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity at the Brown School.

“To participate optimally on cross-professional teams would entail health social workers learning to communicate their contributions in a language understood across professions and finding ways to partner with other professionals to increase the health and wellness of individuals and groups at multiple levels.”

The paper was published August 12 in Health and Social Work. To read more, click: