Embedding Social Workers In Veterans Health Administration Primary Care Teams Reduces Emergency Department Visits

Portia Y. Cornell
Christopher W. Halladay
Joseph Ader
Jaime Halaszynski
Melinda Hogue
Cristian E. McClain
Jennifer W. Silva
Laura D. Taylor
James L. Rudolph
Peer-Reviewed Article
April 2020

Integrated primary care teams have demonstrated positive impacts on patient care, but less is known about the impact of including social workers on these teams. This study evaluated the addition of social workers to rural Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs) within the Veterans Health Administration.

High-risk patients who received care from a PACT with a social worker had reduced acute care services compared to those who received care from a PACT without a social worker. They experienced more than four percent fewer acute hospital admissions and three percent fewer emergency department (ED) visits. The decrease was primarily due to fewer potentially preventable visits, since health concerns could be addressed through better care coordination and less delays in treatment within primary care. These findings translated to a potential decrease of approximately 8,000 fewer ED visits per year in the 43,000 high-risk veterans participating in the program.

Because conditions that lead to ED visits are more costly to treat in emergency settings as opposed to primary care, incorporating social workers into care teams can be a high-value investment. Additionally, social workers can provide comprehensive case management services to address patients’ social needs.

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