The Role Social Workers Play in Mobile Integrated Healthcare (MIH)

Social workers bring a valuable skillset to Mobile Integrated Healthcare. Social workers are trained to examine a patient’s health and environmental picture, making them ideal partners for crisis-response teams, co-responder units, and community paramedic programs.

Social workers can help with evaluation, de-escalation, and long-term health planning when working in Mobile Integrated Healthcare. Many areas dispatch social workers to crisis situations involving substance abuse, mental health issues, or super-utilizers.

Let’s explore social workers’ role in mobile integrated healthcare-community paramedicine.

The Skills Social Workers Bring to the Community Paramedicine

First, let’s look at the profile of a skilled social worker. Understanding the social worker and their areas of expertise will help everyone better understand how they fit into the MIH picture.

While social workers and community paramedics work to improve the lives of the people they serve, each has an area of expertise.

Here are some of the skills of the social worker:

  • They look at the root cause: Social workers are trained to look at a person’s life holistically. While a paramedic might be more concerned with correcting acute problems, a social worker will consider the long game.
  • They consider long-term goals: Social workers will consider the long-term issues and know how to map out a plan for a given patient.
  • They are professional care coordinators:  Social workers understand the need for care coordination. In many ways, they act as an agent on the patient’s behalf, making phone calls and determining options.
  • They are non-threatening to patients: Social workers usually appear to patients as advocates instead of authority figures. This positive rapport between social workers and patients can make a huge difference when helping patients work through their health struggles.

If you’d like, take a moment to read our article on bridging the culture between law enforcement and social workers. Now, let’s discuss the big picture for social workers and MIH.

The Long-Term Goals of Social Work in Mobile Integrated Healthcare

Deploying social workers within a mobile integrated health program is part of a larger strategy to combat the trials facing communities. Unfortunately, many areas are plagued by short-staffed ambulances, overworked ERs, and patients who are not improving.
Often, patients stuck in a negative cycle are left to “figure it out” on their own. Mobile-integrated healthcare seeks to get off the sidelines and work to correct these widespread problems – and social workers are a direct part of this effort.

Using social workers in community paramedicine isn’t new. Many areas have adopted this as standard practice. If you’re curious, you can check out the Arlington, WA MIH program and Utah Fire’s MIH program – both use social workers to achieve their goals.
What are those goals?

Long-term goals for social workers in community paramedicine:  

  1. Help lower 911 utilization: Social workers can help determine the root cause of frequent 911 activation. They can evaluate the patient’s entire living situation and choose a path forward – perhaps the patient has trouble moving around their home, or they are lonely or can’t read the labels on their medications. Social workers find and correct these problems.
  2. Help improve patient triage: Unfortunately, many patients don’t get the care they need simply due to outdated protocols. Ambulances are often forced to transport everybody to the ER. Of course, not every patient is best served in the ER. The social worker can help determine where the patient would be best treated. Perhaps it’s a rehab facility or a mental health center.
  3. Reducing negative police encounters: Along with being good patient advocates and care coordinators, social workers are also trained in de-escalation tactics and patient evaluation. Many social workers will work as part of a co-responder program, which reduces the need for police officers to respond to calls involving psychiatric or substance-related issues.

Now that we have some of the long-term goals outlined let’s look at some of the functional responsibilities of a social worker working in MIH.

How Social Workers Work within Mobile Integrated Health to Help Patients

We know some of the skills of social workers and their long-term goals, but now let’s discuss how the social worker will function within a mobile integrated health team. This will give fellow community providers an idea of what to expect when collaborating with a professional social worker.

Before diving into too many specifics, remember that social workers specialize in different fields. Some social workers may specialize in mental health, others in substance abuse, and others in homelessness – not every social worker on every team will perform the following skills.

With that said, this list will give you a solid idea of what to expect.

 A social worker’s role in mobile integrated healthcare interventions:

  • De-escalation
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Psychosocial Assessment
  • Hospital Coordination

Let’s look at these in more depth.

Social Workers Can De-escalate a Situation

Social workers are trained to help reduce the tension in a situation. A good social worker can put out a situational fire and even move things in a positive direction. Social workers might respond with PD or community paramedics in a co-responder program.

In this instance, the social worker is there to ensure that the patient goes where they need to go and achieve the best outcome for the patient. In many cases, the social worker can find a more productive destination.

In addition to helping de-escalate, social workers will help develop a path forward.

Social Workers Provide Assistance with Criss Intervention Teams

Social workers are also frequently a member of crisis intervention teams. These units will often respond to patients who are struggling with substance abuse, homelessness, or mental health emergencies.

When functioning as a member of one of these teams, the call will progress in an organized manner. In many cases, a community paramedic will ensure the patient isn’t having an immediate health emergency. After the patient is deemed medically stable, there might be a mental health professional who performs a psychological evaluation.

Finally, the social worker may perform a more holistic assessment of the patient’s environment and help the patient coordinate further care.

Sometimes, all these roles are performed by different providers. Occasionally, there is cross-training between paramedics, social workers, and mental health professionals.

Let’s talk a little bit more about the social workers’ assessment.

Social Workers can Provider a Psychosocial Assessment

Social workers are trained in assessment skills that are useful for mobile integrated health. The social worker’s psychosocial assessment (also known as a bio-psychosocial assessment) combines elements of other providers’ conclusions while gathering more information.

A paramedic performs a mostly physical assessment, ensuring the patient has no immediate life-threatening events.

The mental health professional will perform a psychological evaluation, considering the patient’s mood, behaviors, and overall mental state.

The social worker zooms out and takes an even broader look at the patient. They will undoubtedly consider the patient’s physical and psychological health, but they’ll also assess their environment and relationships. They may even discuss the patient’s financial health or where they live.

The goal for the social worker is to get a large picture of the patient’s life to map out an effective strategy for improvement.

Social Workers in Mobile Integrated Healthcare can Help with Hospital Coordination

Once the social worker understands what’s going on with the patient, they can also be instrumental in the planning phase of mobile integrated healthcare. Let’s look at how this might play out in a real-world setting.

A mobile integrated health team will respond to many patients on any given day. Some of them will have straightforward needs, while other patients will have more complicated conditions.

For example, some patients might need a check-in to determine that they are staying current with their meds and that their vitals are stable; otherwise, these patients have a healthy social network, a stable mental state, and are generally doing well.

These more straightforward patients still need the community paramedic, but they may not need the social worker’s skills.

Social workers usually get involved when the patient has a complex health picture. While paramedics love advocating for patients, they are traditionally less trained in forming long-term plans for a patient’s physical, social, and mental health.

As you can see, social workers are often a crucial component of a balanced, mobile integrated healthcare team. Let’s go over some final thoughts.

Conclusion: Why Social Workers Can Benefit Community Paramedicine

Social workers are uniquely skilled to help solve the problems facing community health. Social workers will work as mobile integrated health team members to reduce 911 calls, improve patient triage, and provide overall case management to challenging patients.

Social workers are also great at helping different agencies work together to complete a common goal. The social workers’ only allegiance is to the patient’s and community’s health.

Contact Julota to find out how their software is helping improve data collection and collaboration between community healthcare teams. Julota provides a secure, efficient platform to help MIH teams connect with hospitals, clinics, and professional social workers.