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The role of a social medical worker in patient care

26 May 2016, 10:43 Nasir Kukuri

Medical social workers play a great role in patient care. While the doctor and nurse focus on the medical aspect of patient care, the medical social worker focuses on the psychosocial aspect of patient care.

Because of the varying needs of a patient, there is the need to have a multidisciplinary healthcare team working together to deliver comprehensive patient care.

This team comprises of the doctor, nurse, psychologist, social worker, dietician and physiotherapist. Each of these professionals provides specific services to the patient, focusing on the issues in which they specialise.

The doctor/nurse-client relationship is one characterised by power imbalance. The doctor or nurse is usually in a position of power while the patient or client is a dependent and has less power. This power imbalance leaves patients in a vulnerable position without much defense. They are usually left at the mercy of the treatment process.

In Nigeria, it is a common thing to find nurses abusing patients verbally and emotionally. Patients have little say in the way they are treated, even if they are being abused. It is the duty of the medical social worker to “fight” for the rights of the patient, especially in situations where the patient appears to be ignorant and vulnerable. Patients are encouraged to seek the intervention of a medical social worker when they have problems with a doctor, nurse or any member of the healthcare team.

Doctors and nurses are also encouraged to seek the intervention of a medical social worker when they encounter problems with a patient. Being part of the broader society, the medical setting is not without problems, especially in the area of patient care. One common problem area lies in the doctor/nurse-client relationship. This problem is conflict; conflict between the doctor and patient or between the nurse and patient. Conflict usually arises as a result of misunderstanding between a doctor and his patient or a nurse and her patient.

This is where the mediation and advocacy role of a medical social worker comes in. Conflict in the doctor/nurse-client relationship if not handled well could lead to undesirable and disastrous consequences. The consequences of unresolved conflicts in the doctor/ nurse-client relationship results in a loss either to the doctor or nurse as a professional or the patient as a client. Whether the doctor loses or the patient loses, it’s a loss to the nation. Now patients assume and see healthcare provider or professional as an abuser.

If the patient sees the healthcare process as unfriendly or “harmful”, they will label the healthcare provider or professional as an abuser. For instance, in a situation where an in-patient is given so many injections over a period of time by a particular nurse which may be painful to him, he may see that nurse as an abuser causing him harm and therefore label that nurse as an enemy.

Such a patient could refuse to continue receiving treatment and could even request to be discharged from the hospital when he has not fully recovered. A social worker needs to be called in to have a session with the patient. In-patients need some counseling to help them understand why they are admitted and why they are receiving such treatment. They also needed to be counseled on the implications of a forced discharge. The solution in a situation like this is to get a neutral person to intervene.

It’s important to call the social worker. Perhaps the social worker’s intervention would make a difference since all the nurses were being seen as abusers and they were not being listened to. Patients are urged not to use violent means to have their demands or needs met in the hospital. As a patient in the hospital, if you feel the nurses and doctors are not treating you right, you can call for the social worker to intervene. Make a genuine complain to the social worker.

The social worker’s intervention could make a difference in your life as an in-patient or even an out-patient. If you feel it’s a case of discrimination or racism, call at the social worker’s office.

Sometimes the nurse or doctor may not fully understand the needs of a patient and so may ignore some of those needs but the social worker, because of his specialised training, understands the patient’s psychosocial needs in a way the doctor and nurse may not find needful.

Sometimes the seemingly insignificant needs of a patient are so important that when given attention to, will make a great difference in the well-being and enhancement or restoration of the patient’s capacity for psychosocial functioning and recovery.

- MyNews24

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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