Social Work and Tech


Technology in healthcare leaves a lot to be desired, a desire held by both patient and provider. Providers utilize numerous electronic medical record systems with onerous user interfaces that slow down the clinical work flow. This sometimes results in less-than-stellar coordinated patient care.

On the other side of the exam table, patients are well acquainted with patient portals that fail to coordinate communication correctly, often resulting in frustrated patients calling their clinician to complain. There is a lot to be desired in how we integrate technology and healthcare, and many those same frustrations extend into the parts of healthcare we often overlook: Social work, care coordination, and patient navigation.

From 2013 to 2015, I worked at New York City's Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, a clinic aimed specifically at serving QTBLG medicaid and medicare patients. I am primarily focused on advocating for the queer community, a skill I use at Healthify to make sure our services cover my community's needs. I used my MSW studies to focus on service gaps for this community and one of the skills I gained from this work was learning to see macro-gaps in social work as a whole. We know that people are lacking the necessary social support to live healthy lives. Thus, case managers and social workers are a necessity for good healthcare. 

I was a case managers myself for two years. I did anything and everything I could to meet my patients' needs. I helped people apply for benefits. I fought for my patients to get food stamps and SSDI/SSI and I helped them struggle through the appeals process after the inevitable denial. I accompanied patients with severe anxiety to places like HRA, government medical evaluation facilities, and legal appointments. I worked with patients who were dying – people who had no one in their life except their doctor, their therapist, and me. Despite the maddening self-contradicting systems I was interacting with on a regular basis, I was always recharged knowing how important my efforts were to my patients.

The problem is, case managers are treading water. I knew we were scrambling to get patients the benefits and support that they were already entitled too. Road block after road block made any minor success like retaining SNAP benefits or getting housing a monumental victory. I knew as well then as I do now that the existing system has to change on a structural level.

One of the major and readily available ways to improve social work is technology. Social workers are under-equipped when it comes to tools for patient advocacy. They are talented, intelligent, resourceful, and dedicated, but they lack the infrastructure to apply all of those talents to their full potential.

Hours and hours I would spend poring over binders, pdfs, emails, web searches, and internal phone calls to find just one resource for a patient. The information needed to provide a successful and accurate referral was scattered all over the place. If I had had a tool that centralized that information on my computer's web-browser, it would have completely revolutionized my job. The referrals and support I could have offered my patients would have been drastically increased with just a few resource searches and mouse clicks. 

After all of that frustration with the failing infrastructure behind care coordination, I found Healthify. I knew I needed to be a part of it. I think there are a number of ways to improve the health and wellbeing of our communities. One of those ways is definitely technology: Technology that can be used to connect people who need help to social support.

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We face muddled government policies around healthcare, benefits, and social support. We won't see sweeping reform any time soon. It's up to us – the front line social workers, case managers, patient navigators, and advocates – to work together and to find solutions together. If technology is able to connect people to blogs, friends, food, same-day goods, and more cat photos than any one person could ever digest, then we can use it to connect people to the services and support they need.

Topics: healthcare delivery social determinants of health

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