When Liz Morasso, LCSW, facilitates a Families Living with Rheumatic Diseases support group at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, she empathizes with the struggles and challenges of her young patients. Ms. Morasso was only 16 years old when she was diagnosed with both systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). She knows all too well what it’s like to live with a chronic health condition.
Social workers, such as Ms. Morasso, are an integral part of rheumatology care teams. While physicians treat a patient’s medical needs, social workers look beyond the diagnosis to help patients master coping skills, identify financial resources, address transportation or family issues, and identify support systems.
A 2018 study confirms patients with inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis want health professionals to take a holistic approach to managing their disease. Patients reported wanting care teams who understand more than just the physical effects of chronic disease, but also have an understanding of how that disease affects their lives, their families, their social circle and their ability to participate in activities.1
Ms. Morasso says social workers can help optimize the patient–physician relationship by addressing specific issues, such as fatigue, uncertainty and disability, as well as by offering emotional support and referrals to community resources.
The Rheumatologist recently spoke with rheumatology social workers from across the country to learn how rheumatologists can better partner with social workers as part of an interdisciplinary team to ensure better patient outcomes.
Address a Patient’s Underlying Concerns
After being diagnosed with a chronic condition, such as SLE or juvenile RA, Ms. Morasso says many of her pediatric patients have questions about how a chronic health condition will affect their ability to lead healthy, happy, active lives.
“We have a lot of conversations in our support group about how to navigate school and be your own advocate,” Ms. Morasso says. “Sometimes, young patients want to know the best way to explain their condition to friends or what sports they can participate in that will be safe for their joints.”
Often, Ms. Morasso refers kids and teens from the support group to activities, such as camps offered through the Arthritis Foundation.
“I remember my own rheumatologist telling me that, although doctors have the facts, the people I would meet through support groups and camp would provide me with the next steps in my journey,” Ms. Morasso says. “And she was right. Having a rheumatic disease as a child or teen can be incredibly isolating, so the experience of being around others who understand what you’re going through is priceless.”