Social workers aim to improve the lives of people, families, and whole communities through the important work they do, and they rely on various technologies to enhance their effectiveness. New tools and resources brought about by modern technological advancements enable social workers to serve their clients better and deliver more tailored services. In this article, we explore some of the main types of technology social workers use, discuss their benefits, and examine potential challenges that arise from their use.
Technologies that are enhancing social work
If you’re wondering how to become a licensed clinical social worker, understanding some of the leading technologies making a difference in the field of social work may help you achieve your professional goals. Florida State University’s online courses make this an important part of their respective syllabuses. Here are some examples of technologies helping social workers:
Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
Electronic health records are immensely useful to medical and clinical social workers and other professionals supporting people with medical issues. This allows social workers to easily access their clients’ medical histories and understand what treatments or medications they’ve received. When intervening in substance abuse issues, ECRs help them understand what may or may not have worked in the past and create more effective support plans.
Teletherapy is a relatively new technology that allows social workers and their clients to connect using video conferencing platforms and video calling software. This means that social workers can deliver counseling and meet with clients virtually, which leads to greater efficiency because social workers can help more people in less time. All social workers and their clients need is a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and they can connect from anywhere in the world. This is especially helpful for clients who live in remote areas or have mobility problems.
Social workers can use various mobile apps that promote health and well-being, such as meditation, productivity, stress management, nutrition, and communication apps, to name a few. These can help social workers deliver important services remotely and encourage clients to use these positive behavior-altering apps in their own time. Apps can also help clients overcome addictions, as various apps exist that track sobriety and associated cash savings, besides giving encouragement and support. These apps can be effective supplements for therapy and counseling.
Social media platforms are powerful tools that professionals in many industries leverage to increase the effectiveness of their work. Social workers are no exception, as they can use social media to connect with clients, share helpful information, and advocate for policy changes and social justice. Clients can also use social media to connect with people in similar positions and join online communities and support groups. This increased social connection can have dramatic impacts on patients’ lives, and social workers can also enhance their services through the networks.
Data analytics involves gathering and analyzing data to produce actionable insights, and social workers can use data to do more effective work. For example, social workers can examine data to identify trends and patterns in their clients’ lives, allowing them to develop intervention strategies. They can also leverage data about the world to understand social and economic trends. Besides this, social workers can track the progress of their clients’ recoveries through data analytics, which helps them improve treatment and counseling methods.
Wearables, like Apple, Samsung, and other smartwatches, for example, are increasingly popular nowadays. These devices have various benefits when it comes to enhancing social work, as they enable clients to monitor key health metrics like sleep quality, exercise, and blood pressure. Social workers can keep track of this data to get a tangible understanding of a client’s health and whether it is improving over time. Clients with health conditions, such as heart disease, can benefit from this technology, as it allows them to understand their condition better.
Benefits of using technology in social work
Technology can powerfully enhance social work, giving social workers more reach and increased ability to connect with clients and share important information easily. Here are some of the main areas in which technology can enhance social work:
Effective communication is essential in social work, as this is the primary way for social workers to connect with clients and help them. It is also necessary for social workers to communicate effectively with colleagues and other professionals, such as police officers or social services employees. Technology can impact a social worker’s ability to communicate in the following ways:
Video conferencing: This technology allows social workers to connect with clients in a setting that’s very close to a face-to-face encounter. They can use video conferencing software to hold team meetings, counseling sessions, and discussions with other professionals.
Social media: Social media is another powerful communication tool social workers can leverage. These platforms allow you to distribute information far and wide, promote social justice and connect with individuals.
Text messaging and instant messaging: Not so long ago, social workers could only connect with their clients in person or by letter. Now, social workers can maintain constant contact with clients, allowing them to help them and respond to emergencies much more effectively.
Social workers must keep documents of all their interactions and observations, such as assessments, treatments, and progress reports, as this helps with the continuity of care and ensures legal and regulatory compliance. Technology can help with this greatly, as it speeds up and improves documentation, giving social workers more time to spend with clients. Here are some ways technology can streamline documentation:
Electronic Health Records (EHRs): The medical industry has relied on EHRs for years to ensure the safe and effective storage of documents. This improves care continuity and reduces errors in documentation.
Voice recognition software: This technology allows social workers to easily convert their voice into written notes, even on the go. This can save hours of typing time.
Improved service delivery
Technology can enhance the way social workers deliver services, such as by helping them:
Provide therapy remotely: Remote therapy, or teletherapy, allows social workers to connect with clients and provide vital services remotely, which saves time and money and improves accessibility.
Provide mobile services: Like teletherapy, technology can facilitate the delivery of many remote services, like community outreach or meetings with clients who cannot make it into the office.
Enhance treatment planning: Using technology to exploit data is one of the best ways to inform decision-making, and this is helping social workers design and execute effective treatment plans.
Helps with self-care
Social workers can use technology to keep themselves in good emotional and physical shape in various ways, which translates into better outcomes for patients. The emotionally taxing situations social workers deal with regularly can create stress and eventually lead to burnout, which is a significant problem in the industry. Here are some ways these professionals can use technology to mitigate stress:
Meditation apps: Practicing meditation is known to have positive mental and emotional benefits, and you can use various apps to guide you through meditation exercises and improve your mental clarity.
Stress management apps: Various apps can help you manage stress, including meditation apps, but there are also other kinds, such as those involving breathing exercises.
Fitness trackers: Keeping yourself fit is a good way to promote mental and physical health, as fitness trackers can help you establish a fitness routine and motivate you.
Challenges of using technology in social work
While there are many benefits to using technology to enhance social work, there are also some issues to consider and challenges to overcome. Legal, ethical, and practical concerns arise, such as:
Privacy and confidentiality
The amount of data technologies collect invites the possibility of data breaches, which can compromise the privacy of individuals. Strict data protection measures can help to protect the confidential information of clients, but there’s always a risk to be aware of. Because technology changes and evolves so quickly, new vulnerabilities become exposed, which hackers can exploit. For example, video conferencing software is known to be quite hackable, and people can potentially join meetings uninvited. It is the social worker’s responsibility to keep their clients safe, regardless of the measures put in place by the makers of the technology.
Accessibility and equity
Using technology invites the possibility of unequal access, as not everyone has a computer or a smartphone, for example. While social workers can expand their services and enhance delivery through technology, this assumes that clients all have the equipment needed to receive the services. Some clients, such as older people or those with visual impairments, may not possess technological literacy or the ability to use such devices. It’s important for social workers to understand these potential inequalities and take action to prevent them.
Legal and ethical issues
Using technology to deliver services can create legal and ethical dilemmas and make social workers liable if client confidentiality is breached. Legal and regulatory requirements must be complied with, regardless of the changes to service delivery. Social workers must continue to respect things like documentation, confidentiality, and informed content. They must also learn about the potential risks of using new technologies so they can protect their clients.
Integration and compatibility
Practical issues relating to compatibility and integration also emerge when using technologies to enhance social work. If social workers use multiple platforms or devices to deliver services, these may be incompatible, leading to inefficiencies and, potentially, errors. For example, EHRs and telehealth software may be incompatible, creating confusion and discontinuities. Integrating paper-based documents with new digital documentation systems may also prove arduous. There’s also the practical consideration of acquiring new technologies and devices and rolling them out to social workers, as this will take time, money, and logistical planning.
Maintaining human connection
Because social work centers around human connection, using technology to enhance services threatens to reduce this component, and the consequences of this aren’t well understood. A social worker’s primary tool for connecting with and helping clients is communication and counseling, and rapport-building may be easier face-to-face instead of over the Internet. It’s crucial that support workers understand the importance of human connection and seek to enhance it through technology, not detract from it.
To summarize, there are countless benefits to using technology to enhance social work, but there are also potential problems to consider. It’s important to introduce these potentially disruptive technologies with caution to avoid any unforeseen negative consequences. It is also essential for social workers to understand the legal and ethical implications of using more technology in social work and act in a way that respects and protects individuals. Acknowledging these benefits and challenges can help social workers use technology for the betterment of individual clients, communities, and society as a whole.