The majority of social workers are now working in health care settings, and the advances in use of electronic health records have significant implications for social work practice and research. In order to ensure that social workers both participate in and lead health care innovation, we must meet two important challenges. First, social workers need to understand how electronic health use impacts clinical practice, both in routine care and in the implementation of new practices. Secondly, social workers must determine how to document their practice to demonstrate our specific contribution to the care process that impacts both clinical and population health outcomes. Now, more than ever, there is an imperative for health care providers to demonstrate their “value”. For social work, utilizing electronic health records can further elucidate the profession's value across health care settings and systems.
The papers in this symposium will present examples of social work research examining how electronic health record use influences clinical practice and documents the role and activities of social workers across a variety of healthcare settings, including behavioral health, primary care, and hospitals. Paper #1 will examine use of electronic health records by behavioral health providers during therapy sessions and how it impacts the therapeutic alliance. Paper #2 explores how electronic health record use affected the implementation of a person-centered care intervention in community mental health settings. Paper #3 examines how EHRs are used to document social work activities and describes the content and scope of social work practice within an integrated primary care clinic. Paper #4 describes the process through which a large urban pediatric hospital utilized an existing electronic health system to document social work's contributions to patient care coordination across outpatient, inpatient, and primary care clinics.
The papers demonstrate a variety of methodological approaches including primary and secondary data analysis and quantitative and mixed method designs. Together these papers highlight the importance of understanding how social workers can harness the potential of electronic health records to enhance practice and demonstrate the unique contribution of social workers within health care settings.