Exploring Collaborations Between Pharmacists and Social Workers: A Qualitative Study
Background: There is a paucity of data on the interprofessional collaborative practices of pharmacists and social workers. In particular, the potential for collaboration between these two professions to optimize medication use and reduce morbidity and mortality appears untapped. With increases in prescription drug use and polypharmacy among adults in the United States, identifying ways to enhance collaborations between pharmacists and social workers is essential. The aim of this study was to understand actual and potential collaborations between pharmacists and social workers in a variety of health care settings.
Method: A qualitative research design was used to explore the collaborative practices of pharmacists (n=24) and social workers (n=16). Pharmacists were employed in community pharmacies (n=8) and large health care systems (n=16). Social workers were employed in diverse settings including hospitals (n=12), community-based clinics (n=2), hospice (n=1), and alcohol and drug treatment (n=1). Data were collected via semi-structured individual interviews lasting an average of 42 minutes. Interviews explored participants’ actual collaborative work or perceptions of what this work might entail, barriers to and facilitators of interprofessional collaborative practice, and the ways collaboration between pharmacists and social work could benefits patient outcomes and the healthcare system. NVivo 12 was used to facilitate coding and data management. A constant comparative analysis was implemented to identify salient themes.
Results: Participants provided narrative accounts that explicated the benefits and challenges associated with collaborations between pharmacists and social workers. Three overarching themes were identified: (1) Differential Role Perceptions in Collaborative Work (e.g., advocate, educator): (2) Building the Interprofessional Communication and Collaboration Pathway (e.g., direct vs. indirect communication, cultivating a trusting relationship to bolster collaboration, developing a shared understanding of a patient); and (3) Maximizing Benefits to the Healthcare System (e.g., reduced cost, efficiency, holistic care, care team member well-being). Each of these themes highlights innovative ways that pharmacists and social workers can engage purposefully in interprofessional collaborative practice.
Conclusion: The study findings documented how collaborative work between pharmacists and social workers has the potential to enhance the patient experience, improve medication adherence, and benefit the healthcare system by reducing unnecessary expenditures associated with suboptimal medication management.
Implications: Lessons from this study can be used to inform the development of curricula on interprofessional practice, with a particular focus on the importance of understanding disciplinary roles and areas of expertise, identifying strategies for effective communication, and fostering collaborative practices to improve patients’ health outcomes.