Objective: To quantify and describe the activities of social workers dedicated to a large urban emergency department (ED).
Methods: A retrospective case series of all patients seen by social workers in an urban university hospital ED over a period of six weeks.
Results: Social- work service was provided to 5% of ED patients. Three distinct groups of patients were usually seen by social workers: the elderly, young adults, and children less than 5 years of age. The median age of the group referred for social work services was greater than that of the ED population as a whole; triage acuity also was greater in the referred group. The types of services provided varied with age. Among those patients with social-work consultations, the average time spent with each patient was over one hour and did not vary according to the age, sex, race, or insurance status of the patient. More than 60% of the social worker's time was spent with patients or their significant others.
Conclusion: Social workers provide valuable services to ED patients. The availability of social workers in the ED reduces the demands for emergency physicians and nurses to arrange home health care, nursing home placement, and other social-service functions. Cost savings through diversion of nonacute social admissions are possible. The types of services provided vary and depend to a large extent on patient age. The availability of dedicated social-work personnel in the ED and the education of emergency personnel regarding the services that they can provide should be beneficial for patients, staff, and the hospital served.