Diane Rae Davis
Harm reduction is a helping strategy that attempts to alleviate the social, legal, and medical consequences associated with unmanaged addiction, and in so doing, limit the harms, such as infectious disease (HIV, hepatitis), violence, criminal activity, and early death, without necessarily attempting to “cure” the addiction. While abstinence may be an ideal outcome from a harm reduction standpoint, abstinence is viewed as only one of several means of improving a person's life. Harm reduction strategies are well known in the U.S. through methadone maintenance and syringe-exchange programs, and are increasingly relied on in the treatment of co-existing disorders.
This entry provides an overview of the state of health care in the United States. Service delivery problems such as access and affordability issues are examined, and health care disparities and the populations affected are identified. A discussion of two primary government-sponsored health care programs—Title XVIII (Medicare) and Title XIX (Medicaid), and the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act—are reviewed along with various health care programs and major existing service delivery systems. Ethical conflicts in providing health care, and new directions and challenges are discussed, along with future roles for social workers.
Lois F. Cowles
Social work in health care emerged with immigration and urbanization associated with industrialization, and the resultant shift from physician visits to the patient's home and workplace to hospital-centered care. This change is alleged to have resulted in a loss of the doctor's perspective of the psychosocial influences on physical health. Originally, some nurses were assigned the function of addressing this loss. But eventually, the function became recognized as that of a social worker. From its beginnings in the general hospital setting in the late 1800s, social work in health care, that is, medical social work, has expanded into multiple settings of health care, and the role of the social worker from being a nurse to requiring a Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW) from a university. However, the broad function of social work in health care remains much the same, that is, “to remove the obstacles in the patient's surroundings or in his mental attitude that interfere with successful treatment, thus freeing him to aid in his own recovery” (Cannon, 1923. p 15). Health care social workers are trained to work across the range of “methods,” that is, work with individuals, small groups, and communities (social work “methods” are called “casework”, “group work” and “community organization”). They work to assist the patient, using a broad range of interventions, including, when indicated, speaking on behalf of the client (advocacy), helping clients to assert themselves, to modify undesirable behaviors, to link with needed resources, to face their challenges, to cope with crises, to develop improved understanding of their health-related thought processes and habits, to build needed self confidence to do what is required to help themselves deal with their health problem, to gain insight and support from others who are in a similar situation, to gain strength from humor, or from a supportive environment, and through spiritual experience, and from practicing tasks that are needed to deal with their health-related problems or from joining forces with others in the community to modify it in the interest of improved health status for all, or to gradually restore a sense of stability and normalcy after a traumatic experience. Most important of all, perhaps, is the “helping relationship” between client and social worker, which needs to be one of total understanding and acceptance of the client as a person. A sizable portion of the U.S. population lacks financial access to health care, where health care is regarded as a privilege rather than a right, as it is seen in all other industrial nations (except South Africa). Current trends in the U.S. health care system reflect efforts to control rising health care costs without dealing with the “real problems,” which are: (1) the lack of a single-payer health care system and: (2) the lack of focus on “public health.”
Candyce S. Berger
The U.S. health care system is a pluralistic, market-based approach that incorporates various public and private payers and providers. Passage of Medicare and Medicaid, combined with rapid advances in technology and an aging population, has contributed to rising health care costs that typically increase faster than general inflation. This entry will review health care financing, exploring where the money is spent, who pays for health care, what the reimbursement mechanisms for providers are, and some issues central to the discussion of reform of health care financing. To effectively advocate health care reform, social workers must understand health care financing.
Stephen H. Gorin and Terry Mizrahi
This entry presents an overview of national health-care reform in the United States, from its introduction into the public policy agenda at the turn of the 20th century through policy debates and legislative proposals more than a century later. Specifically, it concentrates on the programs and strategies to obtain universal coverage for health and mental-health services for all Americans at the national level, with limited success. It ends with a discussion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Special emphasis is laid on the roles of social workers and their professional organizations during this period.
Health social work is a subspecialization of social work concerned with a person's adjustment to changes in one's health and the impact this has on that person's social network. Social workers in every setting must be ready to assist individuals and families adjusting to illness and coping with medical crises. This entry provides a brief overview and history of health social work and describes the settings and roles where this work is practiced. Significant challenges and opportunities in clinical care, research, education, and policy are discussed. Standards and guidelines for quality practice are then noted.
Valire Carr Copeland and Sandra Wexler
Despite technological advances and changes in healthcare delivery, some groups in the United States continue to have better health-related outcomes than others. This article discusses health disparities—differences in health status and healthcare utilization that are influenced by complex social structural, economic, and cultural factors. Illustrations are offered of health disparities found among diverse populations in this country. The “problem” with health disparities is then explored. From an ethical standpoint, health disparities can be seen as unjust. From a cost perspective, health disparities exact not just a financial toll that is borne by society, but individual, group, and community consequences, as well. From a human rights vantage, health disparities can further disadvantage people who are already vulnerable and marginalized—health disparities can cost people their lives. Factors contributing to health disparities, commonly referred to as social determinants, are reviewed. Finally, future directions, including social workers’ role as advocates, are considered.
Vivian Jackson and Wendy Jones
The revised NASW Standards and Indicators for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice (2015) requires social workers to “provide and advocate for effective communication with clients of all cultural groups, including people of limited English proficiency or low literacy skills, people who are blind or have low vision, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people with disabilities” (p. 43). This article focuses on one component of this standard—literacy, specifically health literacy. It presents a summary overview of health literacy and its implications for social work practice. It also presents the history of the concept and provides various definitions and types of health literacy as described in the literature. The authors describe the association between health literacy levels of the population, the intricacies of health systems, and their impact on health outcomes. The negative impact for marginalized populations including persons with limited English proficiency and immigrants and refugees—a major focus of the social work profession—signals the need for action at multiple levels. The authors explore a multifaceted approach to health literacy at the clinical, organizational, and policy levels with reference to the role of the social work profession.
Peter A. Newman
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the most deadly epidemic of modern times. Since HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS, was first identified in the United States in 1981, nearly 1 million Americans have been diagnosed with AIDS and 530,756 have died. Forty million people are living with HIV worldwide. Although AIDS is still a fatal disease, new drug therapies have greatly slowed the course of disease progression and enhanced quality of life for persons living with HIV. Nevertheless, monumental disparities persist within the United States and between the developed and developing worlds in this two-tiered epidemic.
Kosta N. Kalogerogiannis, Richard Hibbert, Lydia M. Franco, Taiwanna Messam, and Mary M. McKay
For over 20 years, social workers have been involved in service delivery for HIV and AIDS infected and affected individuals. It is estimated that more than 1 million people are living with HIV or AIDS in the United States. The rates of HIV infections continue to rise, with more than 40,000 individuals being diagnosed each year in the United States. This entry explores the current trends in HIV primary prevention, secondary prevention, and counseling and psychotherapy services for people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.