Technology is enhancing social work in various ways, allowing professionals working in the field to help more and more people with greater effectiveness and efficiency. Improvements in areas like communication, advocacy, and research, for example, are making social workers’ lives easier and treatment and resources more accessible for their clients.
Understanding the positive impact of technology on social work can help you leverage some of the latest tools and be more effective in carrying out your duties. Below, we explore some disruptive technologies that have influenced social work practices and discuss their potential ethical implications.
Technologies changing social work
Social work is constantly evolving due to societal and technological changes, and industry professionals must keep up to date with them. Courses such as Cleveland State University’s MSW online program can equip you with modern techniques, including how to leverage the latest technology to perform your job. Here are some examples of technologies that have radically changed the way social workers carry out certain practices:
Electronic health records
EHRs have transformed social work practices by enabling more effective and efficient delivery of healthcare services. Social workers use EHRs to access patients’ medical histories, manage their care plans, track their progress, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals. EHRs also provide real-time access to critical patient information, allowing social workers to make informed decisions quickly. EHRs have changed how social workers interact with patients and have improved the quality of care that social workers provide.
Electronic telehealth, also known as telemedicine or teletherapy, refers to using electronic communication technologies to provide healthcare services remotely. It has transformed social work practices by making healthcare more accessible to patients, especially those in remote areas or with mobility issues. Social workers use electronic telehealth to provide mental health counseling, consultations, and other healthcare services using video conferencing, email, and text messaging. Electronic telehealth has also improved the quality of care that social workers provide by increasing patient engagement and improving treatment outcomes. It has enabled social workers to offer more flexible and convenient care options that better meet the needs of their patients.
Mobile apps have revolutionized social work practices by providing social workers with new tools and resources to better serve their clients. Social workers use mobile apps to manage their schedules, document client interactions, and access clinical resources such as treatment guidelines, assessment tools, and educational materials. Mobile apps have also improved communication between social workers and clients by enabling secure messaging and video conferencing. They have enhanced the efficiency of social work practices by streamlining administrative tasks and reducing paperwork. Overall, mobile apps have transformed how social workers deliver healthcare services, making them more accessible, efficient, and effective.
Social workers can now earn degrees and certifications through online programs, allowing them to continue working while studying at their own pace. Online education has also provided social workers with a wider range of learning opportunities, including access to expert instructors and courses from anywhere in the world. Social workers use online education to develop new skills and knowledge, enhance their career prospects, and stay up to date with the latest research and best practices. Online education has enabled social workers to improve the quality of care they provide by expanding their knowledge and expertise in a flexible and convenient manner.
Social workers can use data analytics to deeply understand societal issues and identify trends, patterns, and relationships to guide decision-making. This makes social workers much more effective in their jobs because it gives them profound insight into their clients’ lives and helps them understand their needs. Using an evidence-driven approach not only ensures better outcomes but also allows social workers to analyze their approaches and find room for improvement. This leads to drastic improvements in efficiency and effectiveness over time.
Ethical implications of using technology in social work
Technology can offer many benefits but also open the door to new and unexpected risks. When leveraging technology to carry out their work, social workers must ensure they are mitigating these risks to keep their clients safe. Here are some of the main areas of concern:
Because technology, like electronic health records, collects and stores highly sensitive information, it puts clients at risk of having their privacy compromised. Unlike physical documents, information stored on EHRs can be hacked or leaked.
Technology can cause inequalities in society because those with more financial resources can typically reap the rewards of accessing the latest releases. In the context of social work, this can cause divides and injustices because certain geographical areas may receive more or less funding, meaning they cannot invest in the best technology. Also, people have varying degrees of capability when it comes to using technology, meaning inequalities could be produced between those with technological literacy and those without.
Depending on how technology is used, it may produce unfair outcomes because it has the potential to perpetuate existing societal biases. For example, if a predictive analytics tool is trained on biased data, such as data containing information about biased social norms, the technology itself can become biased. Likewise, social workers using technology may have unconscious biases that they are unknowingly reinforcing. To mitigate this risk, it is important for social workers to examine any potential biases and take steps to eliminate them. This may involve using diverse datasets and ensuring diverse teams work on technological development and implementation.