Palliative Care: Social Workers Help Ensure Patients Have Access, Find Satisfaction

Sep 19, 2023

illustration of older person

By Sue Coyle

Social workers play an important role in health care, even more so as health care services become increasingly integrated. The impact that social workers have on their patients, the patients’ families and the health care team as a whole varies depending on the setting and the specialty. However, the one constant is social workers’ ability to connect their patients with the resources and additional services they need. Such is the case with palliative care.

For example, the Veterans Health Administration published a study in January of this year that analyzed the records of 43,200 veterans receiving care through a Veterans Affairs health care site. The veterans, whose average age was about 65 and all of whom had been recently hospitalized, were found to be 95% more likely to access palliative and hospice care if they were connected to a social worker through their primary care physician.

In this case, all of the health care providers were connected to the Social Work Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT), a health care model that works with veterans and their health care professionals to focus on whole-person, lifelong health and wellness.

These findings come as no surprise to social workers, particularly those in palliative care or another medical field. Nonetheless, they serve as a reminder that while palliative care is invaluable to patients dealing with long-term and life-limiting illnesses, it is a service that is often underused and misunderstood.

According to the World Health Organization, while there are an estimated 56.8 million people globally in need of palliative care each year, only about 14% of individuals receive it. Social workers play a key part in changing that. Through education, relationship-building and a commitment to palliative care, social workers can help ensure more patients and their families are fully informed of the discipline and take advantage of the access that already exists.

Read the full story in NASW Social Work Advocates magazine .