Mr. Taylor says patients are also referred to a social worker if a doctor or clinic nurse senses the patient has anxiety, psychosocial issues or even a loss of purpose.
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“By having the time to meet with the patient regularly and develop trusted relationships, we are in a good position to assist a patient in taking greater responsibility for their health by learning self-management support strategies to improve quality of life,” he says.
Partner with a Social Worker in the Community
If rheumatologists don’t have access to a social worker within their practice, Ms. Batterman says there are community resources for doctors.
“Community agencies, including the Visiting Nurses, have social workers on staff who see patients in their homes and provide support and resources,” Ms. Batterman says.
Additionally, the Arthritis Foundation recently launched a 24-hour helpline. Staffed by social workers, the hotline provides a forum for rheumatology patients who have questions and are seeking resources on such topics as depression, financial assistance, insurance questions, disability, legal questions and more. The Arthritis Foundation also offers Live Yes! connect groups for rheumatology patients at locations throughout the country.
Meet Families Where They Are
Having a chronic illness can be tough on both patients and their families, Ms. Friedhoff says.
“Social workers can tailor a treatment plan to each individual patient and family based on their own unique needs,” she says. “I’m careful not to overstep the limits of my knowledge and to call upon other members of our multidisciplinary team if a patient needs care that is beyond my scope of practice.”
By working closely with dietitians, psychiatrists, nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals, Ms. Friedhoff says social workers can serve as a bridge between patients and their rheumatologists.
“Having a rheumatic disease can [affect] so many areas of a patient’s life,” Ms. Friedhoff says. “Often, we’re called upon by families to help schools understand what it means to have students with a rheumatic disease.”
This may mean ensuring a student has the accommodations they need or explaining that a student who is taking a biologic may rack up more sick days than the average student.
In pediatric rheumatology, Ms. Friedhoff says she often has conversations about a child’s capabilities and growing independence. Many families question whether their child can participate in gym class and other activities or if they will be able to someday go to college and manage their disease while living away from home.