How many social workers are needed in primary care? A patient-based needs assessment example

Health Soc Work. 2005 Nov;30(4):305-13. doi: 10.1093/hsw/30.4.305.


This study measured levels of self-reported social need in a sample of 684 veterans seen in four primary care clinics of a large Veterans Affairs health care system, using the Social Needs Checklist, and calculated levels of social work staffing to meet these needs. Data were obtained on the presence and severity of 15 areas of social needs, housing status, patient requests for social work services, and current access to other providers for social services. Data were also obtained from primary care social workers who estimated the average time needed to provide basic social work services. Nearly two-thirds of the sample had problems related to finances and personal stress. Three in four patients reported multiple needs. One-third requested social work services. Social work staffing needed for highest acuity patients was estimated to be 61 percent higher than actual staffing available. The study presents a method of estimating staffing levels based on social needs reported by patients.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Los Angeles
  • Needs Assessment*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Social Work*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Veterans