Home Blog Technology and Social Work: Opportunities and Challenges

Technology and Social Work: Opportunities and Challenges

August 16, 2023
Female social worker sits at a computer while communicating with her team during a video conference call.

Technology is a part of all of our everyday lives, both in work and in our free time: phones, computers, tablets, e-readers, watches, kitchen appliances, cars, etc. The list goes on and on.

In social work specifically, there are a lot of ways in which technology allows workers to access innovative tools that enhance their services and improve their overall efficiency. This unlocks new potential but, at the same time, poses some challenges that haven’t been seen before or are actively evolving.

Below, you’ll discover how technology, such as digital communication tools, can take social work to the next level. You’ll also learn how to deepen your knowledge to stay on top of technological changes and ahead of the competition in the job market.

Videoconferencing: Enhancing Client Engagement

Videoconferencing or video call platforms, such as Zoom, let you conduct real-time audiovisual transmission with almost anyone in the world. It uses microphones, cameras and screens to simulate a face-to-face conversation with someone else. With its ease of use and widespread adoption, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, videoconference has lots of benefits for social workers and their patients.

With video calls, people in isolated or underserved locations can access care without traveling to a healthcare facility, which saves time and travel costs.1 This enhanced accessibility is important for reaching new client populations or strengthening bonds with existing ones, because people can get help from the privacy and convenience of their homes.

Additionally, people with disabilities often struggle to communicate with healthcare professionals for physical and personal reasons—videoconferencing can help overcome these barriers by making it easier to connect. For instance, it may be stressful for someone with agoraphobia (the anxiety of leaving a familiar environment) to visit a healthcare provider’s office.2 They also might have trouble getting into a car, driving and getting into your office. Through videoconferencing, though, the person never has to leave the comfort of a familiar space if they don’t need to.

Besides making care more accessible and improving client engagement, videoconferencing enables remote work. Among social work teams, colleagues in different locations can meet up online to work together on documents, hold discussions and collaborate seamlessly.3 Even further, social work professional from different states, countries and continents can hold calls to discuss cases, share ideas, conduct trainings and much more.

Electronic Health Records: Streamlining Documentation and Information Sharing

Electronic health records (EHRs) store patients' medical information. What was previously shelves of forms and notes is now digitized records, significantly reducing paperwork and administrative burdens. This improves quality of care, reduces costs and increases efficiency in any social work setting.4

EHR systems store health information in a central place for easy access. This streamlines the management of appointments, case notes and health documents.5 Additionally, EHRs facilitate an electronic health information exchange (HIE) between social workers and their clients’ healthcare professionals, such as therapists and doctors. This makes it easy to share a client’s records and can reduce expensive, repetitive tests.4 If a client is feeling unwell and has been tested for strep throat, then others will be able to see it in their chart and don’t need to order another exam.

According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), sharing patient information electronically between providers is proven to improve the safety, quality and speed of care while also reducing costs.6

Social Media Marketing: Expanding Outreach and Education

Pew Research shows that about 70% of Americans use social media.7 Global statistics reveal that the use of social media is increasing year after year, and experts expect the same trend to prevail in the future.8 With this massive reach, social workers can leverage social media platforms to create awareness about their services, share educational resources and advocate for social causes.9 It can also be an opportunity to debunk myths surrounding mental health for vulnerable groups, as many videos and content shared online may be inaccurate.

Similar to videoconference, social media gives social workers the opportunity to reach audiences they previously could not. That includes social work clients, their families and potential patients, or even the general population who may be unfamiliar with social work but now can have more exposure and knowledge.

Mobile Health: Improving Convenience and Accessibility

Mobile health, also called mHealth, involves using mobile devices and wireless technologies to deliver healthcare services. This may include smartphones, tablets, wearables and remote monitoring tools.10

One of the main advantages of mobile health is convenience. Mobile technology empowers clients to seamlessly manage and monitor their health data no matter where they are or who they’re with. Take an app such as Apple Health, for example. It integrates with EHR systems and allows patients to access, manage and share their health data from their mobile phones without meeting face to face with a healthcare provider.11 According to Apple, the Health app also allows people to download their medical information from different healthcare organizations and easily share it with a new provider.12 This fosters more informed conversations when an individual visits a health institution for the first time.

Besides convenience, mobile health improves accessibility. The connected nature of these devices allows social workers to reach people in remote or underserved areas. In 2022, for example, the World Health Organization reported on Mongolia’s use of mHealth to improve primary healthcare services in hard-to-reach communities.13

Challenges of Technology in Social Work

Technological improvements streamline services, but they also come with some serious problems in the field of social work. As we learn more about their functions and capabilities, we can see their repercussions (often unintended) play out in different ways. Here are some things to consider when bringing technology into your social work practice.

Ethical Issues

Digital ethics include the responsible use of technology and client data.14 This has become more difficult with advanced digitization and widespread use across groups who may not be familiar with the side effects of technology. Specifically, the increased use of technology introduces two main ethical issues for social workers.

First, obtaining well-informed consent from clients has become more challenging due to the lack of in-person interactions. As a result, ensuring a person clearly understands the risks and potential benefits of a remote service is more complex. Explaining it to them over a video call can work, but you can’t always convey the same tone and message, along with not being able to physically walk through documents with them.

Second, technology introduces new privacy and confidentiality issues to social work. The law requires healthcare professionals to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA privacy rules protect identifiable health information from unauthorized disclosure.15 When serving clients electronically, a social worker has less control over confidentiality than with an in-person visit.

For example, a client may not be in a private space during a video session with a social worker. This can cause legal problems if the social worker unknowingly leaks the client’s health information to the public by saying something out loud when they’re put on a speaker.16

Cybersecurity Concerns

As digital technology becomes a fundamental part of social work, protecting clients’ information against cyber threats has become paramount. Details such as an individual’s contact information, social status and financial information can be valuable to cybercriminals.17

Without robust cybersecurity measures in place, cybercriminals can gain unauthorized access to this information, resulting in HIPAA violations. The HIPAA security rules set the standards for safeguarding health information that’s stored or transmitted electronically.18 Noncompliance can attract expensive fines–up to $50,000 per year for every violation–and sometimes jail time.19

How to Incorporate Technology Into Social Work

The field will continue to develop with technology ingrained in almost every aspect, so it’s important to stay up to date on the latest tools and techniques. Gaining master’s skills in social work makes you stand out and opens doors to advanced, well-paying career opportunities. With Yeshiva University’s online Master of Social Work program, you equip yourself with knowledge that can help you navigate modern challenges when assisting communities with technology.

Contact an admission outreach advisor today to see how you can prepare yourself for a better future.

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  2. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from socialworktoday.com/archive/MA18p18.shtml
  3. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/business-insights-ideas/resources/how-video-conferencing-helps-build-better-relationships
  4. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3270933
  5. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from harrisintegrative.com/resource/how-an-ehr-can-streamline-case-management-in-social-work
  6. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from healthit.gov/topic/health-it-and-health-information-exchange-basics/what-hie
  7. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media
  8. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users
  9. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from socialworktoday.com/archive/exc_090915.shtml
  10. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/mobile-health
  11. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from techtarget.com/searchhealthit/definition/mHealth
  12. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from apple.com/healthcare/health-records/.
  13. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/integrating-mobile-health-care-strengthen-phc-hard-to-reach-communities-mongolia
  14. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/nl/Documents/risk/deloitte-nl-risk-digital-ethics-flyer.pdf
  15. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from cdc.gov/phlp/publications/topic/hipaa.html
  16. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from socialworktoday.com/archive/011915p14.shtml
  17. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from file.go.gov.sg/csess.pdf
  18. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/security/laws-regulations/index.html

19. Retrieved on July 26, 2023, from ada.org/en/resources/practice/legal-and-regulatory/hipaa/penalties-for-violating-hipaa#:~:text=A%20person%20who%20knowingly%20obtains,up%20to%20one%2Dyear%20imprisonment