Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine : JABFM 2017 01 0630(1) 35-43 doi 10.3122/jabfm.2017.01.160177
Social workers are positioned to address social determinants of health (SDHs), but their specific roles in outpatient primary care practice have not been well described. We aimed to describe needs of patients with diabetes addressed during social work (SW) consultations and their impact on disease control.
This study was a retrospective review of electronic medical records of 977 patients with diabetes with a SW consultation at 3 primary care internal medicine sites in 2014. Diabetes and cardiovascular (CV) risk factor control were assessed before and after the SW encounter. Patient subgroups with uncontrolled diabetes or CV risk factors were compared with propensity-matched patients without a SW encounter. Of the 977 records, 300 were randomly selected for abstraction of needs addressed at the SW consultation using SDH categories established by Wilkinson and Marmot.
Patient insurance status included 52% Medicare and 32% Medicaid. The SDHs most often addressed were social gradient (67%; obtaining medications or health insurance) and social support (25%). Among our total population, there were no significant improvements in glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, or body mass index at least 3 months after the first SW consultation. For patients with uncontrolled diabetes (HbA1c >9% or LDL cholesterol >130 mg/dl), HbA1c improved by 1.5 versus 1.1% for matched controls (P = .03) and LDL improved by 37.7 versus 21.3 mg/dl for matched controls (P = .002).
In this sample with a preponderance of Medicare and Medicaid patients, social workers most often assisted patients with diabetes in obtaining medications or health insurance. For patients with uncontrolled diabetes or cholesterol, a temporal association between SW consultation and improved disease control was noted.