As the number of visitors to the emergency room rises ― contrary to the hopes behind the Affordable Care Act ― a number of studies are beginning to find that it is not affordability of healthcare that keeps the population healthy; rather, it is access and attention before, during, and after treatment that prevents disastrous health events.
Patients need more than a once-over from doctors during their hospital stays. Unfortunately, most medical professionals are overwhelmed with their current workload and unable to worry about follow-up outpatient care, as well.
That’s why the system is in dire need of more social workers. Already invested in the well-being of the populations they serve, social workers are the ideal solution to our nation’s health crisis. Outpatient health specialists, health counselors, public health managers, medical social workers, and others can provide the services our healthcare system needs right now.
Expanding Outpatient Services
Outpatient care includes any medical attention that does not require admittance to a hospital. Also called ambulatory care, outpatient treatment can include processes such as diagnosis, observation, and rehabilitation, as well as advanced procedures that do not require hospital equipment or response. Though many Americans view hospitals as the best place to receive medical services, outpatient care is usually preferable for a variety of reasons, including cost, convenience, and specialization of services.
Hospitals and care facilities around the country are rapidly expanding their outpatient centers to address the tremendous influx of patients in recent years. However, as they expand, many outpatient services are receiving a remarkable redesign to ensure they can provide the best quality care to patients without sacrificing the time and efficiency of medical staff.
For example, some health systems are integrating urgent care facilities into outpatient programs. Urgent care patients do not have the luxury of waiting for an appointment, but they usually don’t have maladies that require emergency medical attention. Therefore, the outpatient center can relieve pressure on hospitals by properly caring for urgent patients without overtaxing medical staff at the hospital.
Another important addition to outpatient facilities is the social worker, who is incredibly useful at distributing important information to patients. Trained ambulatory social workers can assume the responsibility of explaining diagnoses and treatment options, particularly to patients who have difficulty taking care of themselves ― like elderly people or young children. Special training like this is something many aspiring social workers learn in online graduate schools like this one.
Social workers in outpatient centers can also provide more typical duties of the profession that nurses and doctors are not equipped for, like helping patients procure financial assistance for medical debt or procure a job after recovery from disease or disability. Social workers often pursue patients’ cases for longer than a medical professional is able to, which grants patients the extended care they need to attain true health and well-being.
The Future of Outpatient Tech
Outpatient care is expanding, literally and figuratively, as more Americans seek medical aid. Fortunately, as traditional positions (like social workers) adapt to fill the needs of the health care industry, technology, too, is developing to provide additional support.
One of the most exceptional advances in outpatient technology ― and one that could predict the future of the health care industry as a whole ― is telemedicine. Also called telehealth, virtual care, digital health, mobile health, and many more futuristic monikers, telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients. Using devices like smartphones and computers, patients can interface with medical professionals to understand their diseases and find solutions, all without leaving the comfort of their homes.
Certainly, telemedicine makes good health more accessible for patients who have difficulty traveling or disinterest in visiting a physical facility. Potentially, social workers could also interface with patients through such digital portals, slashing the time they waste commuting and providing extra resources to devote to new cases.
Most developing outpatient technology stems from the concept of telemedicine. For example, remote monitoring devices like smartwatches allow doctors (or social workers) to track patients’ progress from afar, granting them more information regarding individual recovery processes.
Additionally, to reduce the need for extended hospital stays or movement to assisted-living centers, patients can install sensors around their homes to alert case workers to falls and other dangerous events that impact health.
America is currently suffering from a shortage of physicians, and as more people gain financial access to the medical care they need, this lack of medical professionals will become even more dire. Thankfully, a combination of non-medical staff and advanced tech can help patients find the treatment plans they need to become healthy at last.