Is Virtual Social Work on the Horizon?

From the smoke signals of ancient cultures to the MMO computer games hosting thousands of players all at once, communication has been defined by technology from the beginning. Medicine is no different. Today medical technology not only sees its way into high-tech OR rooms, but also into the actual ways in which patients and doctors communicate. Telemedicine has been getting developed for years, and now social work is following suit.

Is Virtual Social Work on the Horizon?

Social workers experience challenges when it comes to closing the gaps of distance between themselves and clients. Time constraints, access, and transportation can be addressed by virtual practice. Here are a few ways we’ll see technology change the practice of social work in the next few years.

Online Support and Advocacy Groups

A majority of adults in the United States access the internet and recent trends show that they are more and more frequently accessing the internet in order to get health and social assistance. Human service organizations will more frequently use the internet as a way to facilitate support groups. Likewise, online advocacy groups have never been more enfranchised as they are able to reach thousands of people through the internet in order to fight negative policies, support underserved projects and provide support for those who would not otherwise receive it.

Training and Knowledge

Paul Freddollino of Michigan State University argues that the field of social work will lead other fields in the development of web-based tools that will aid social work practice. The use of the web for training and education of social workers will continue to grow as these tools serve those who cannot afford to attend classes away from their homes. Technologies will also allow social workers to collaborate in order to further develop and change the field of social work. Looking at the effects of technology on the recent election serves as a good levitra generic indication of the power of technology and media to change outcomes, as Bob Rivas points out.

Virtual Practice

Virtual social work or e-therapy practice through chatting, Skype, and face time will become less of an exception and more a rule in the coming years. Virtual social work allows social workers to see more clients. It also allows those who live away from city centers to visit with the appropriate people who can help them in spite of their lack of physical access.

Improved Connection and Management

University of Rochester’s Philip Ng forecasts a new mode of managing case files electronically through mobile devices. Social workers will be able to contact their clients face-to-face with ease. Centralized databases will allow social workers to have better access to grant assistance information and other government services that have historically been difficult to find.

These changes in social work practices based on virtual technologies have a variety of outcomes and not all of them are positive. Experts warn against the ways in which technology could get out of hand with little to no universal practice rules being put in place. They are also warning against the confusing blurring of professional and personal relationships that can develop in the use of texting, Skyping, and chatting. But according to Oullette, the most tragic outcome of technology and social work would be not using the tools at hand. “…My biggest fear is that nay-sayers and skeptics will be successful in preventing fair tests of technology-based or technology supported social work.” If other studies are correct, the evidence suggests Oullette will not have to face this outcome.

Robert Neff writes articles about communication in medicine. New technology has made the medical field including social work easier by long distance connections. Think you’re ready to make a difference, consider earning a degree at Case Western University.

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