5 Key Roles of a Medical Social Worker

Five Important Aspects of a Medical Social Worker Position

  • Psychosocial Evaluation
  • Counseling
  • Family Support
  • Financial Assistance
  • Discharge Planning

A patient’s health is not simply related to physical condition but is multidimensional involving psychological well-being, social issues, and relationships, and as such, there are a variety of key roles of a medical social worker. These professionals are trained to provide support to individuals suffering from major medical illnesses as well as their families. They also help nurses coordinate all the different aspects of care as directed by different medical consultants.

Psychosocial Evaluation

When physicians first begin to suspect a patient of having a serious illness, they immediately begin collecting as much information about the patient as possible. One step in this process is an evaluation of the patient’s emotional state and social situation. A social worker sits down with the patient and asks numerous questions about relationships, jobs, history of mental and physical illnesses, and substance use in order to get a clear picture of the patient’s background. Then, they shift the assessment to the patient’s current condition, making particular note of any stressors that might affect his or her ability to recover.


In their professional education, most medical social workers also undergo training in counseling and are qualified to evaluate a patient’s psychological state and provide talk therapy. This can be incredibly important for patients facing potentially life-threatening diagnoses. Social workers help patients process their fears and make sure they have a thorough understanding of their conditions. Addressing mental health issues early can lead to better outcomes later as patients will be under less stress and more able to focus on treating their physical illness.

Family Support

Another important part of working as a medical social worker involves talking with the patient’s family which is only done with the patient’s permission. Regardless of the patient’s age or stage in life, serious illness and potential loss of a family member is difficult. The social worker helps the family learn how to best provide care for their loved one. This type of support is also important in nursing home settings because family members often need reassurance that they are making the right decision in admitting a parent no longer able to live independently.

Financial Assistance

In the United States, one of the primary concerns of newly-diagnosed patients involves the cost of treatment. This is even a concern for those with insurance because, often, there are large deductibles and co-insurance that need to be covered. There are more financial challenges if the illness and treatment requires significant time off from work. Medical social workers evaluate their resources and make a plan. According to Forbes, one of the largest costs of healthcare are medications, and to offset this, medical social workers can help patients apply for assistance.

Discharge Planning

This is one of the most important tasks of a medical social worker. At the end of a hospital stay, it is vital that the patient fully understand the directions including how to take medications and when to return for checkups. A social worker schedules all followup appointments and ensures that the patient has the financial resources they need to get rides and fill prescriptions. In some cases, they might deem the patient unable to care for themselves at the time of discharge, and social workers then find a suitable placement in a long-term care center or arrange for home healthcare services.

Related Resource: Top 10 Affordable Masters in Social Work: 2018

A major medical illness complicates every aspect of a patient’s life, and social workers help the patient maintain a sense of normalcy and stability. These professionals are employed in a variety of facilities including hospitals, clinics, long-term care centers, and nonprofit agencies. Regardless of the particular employer, though, the above-listed key roles of medical social workers are universal.