Traumatic brain injuries affect more than 2 millions people in the United States, but a frightening number of the patients do not receive appropriate psychological and social follow-up which is essential for full recovery. But, a recent study from a University of Washington researcher may hold the answer.
Megan Moore, from the university’s School of Social Work found that a 20-minute conversation with a social worker could potentially reduce the functional decline of patients with a mild traumatic brain injury by a significant amount, as she reports in the April issue of the journal Brain Injury.
Moore works in training social workers in emergency departments to provide education and resources to patients with mild traumatic brain injuries to help them deal with symptoms and the recovery process.
“Social workers are masters-level trained clinicians who are already embedded in emergency room treatment teams,” Moore said. “The goal of my work is to provide them with specialized training on mild traumatic brain injuries to help bridge the psychological and social aspects of treatment with medical care.”
A significant number of people who suffer mild traumatic brain injuries, commonly referred to as a concussion, do not seek any medical care. Those that do go to the emergency room often leave believing they are physically fine, though they frequently continue to have issues with memory, depression, and completing once-routine tasks. Moore says that is why it is essential for a social worker to complete an evaluation before the patient is able to leave the emergency room.
“It’s a critical intervention point not only for the patients with mild traumatic brain injuries, but also for patients with other types of medical and psychosocial problems,” she said.
Moore devised the plan for a study currently ongoing at San Francisco General Hospital during while conducting her doctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley. In the study, medical staff identify patients with mild traumatic brain injuries and refer them to social workers trained to provide education, coping strategies, resources, and a brief alcohol intervention screening. This is accompanied by a follow-up phone call at a later date to evaluate a patient’s progress.
Moore’s initial study found a significantly reduction in brain injury patients’ alcohol use and functional decline with intervention that lasts less than 20 minutes. She also says social workers already conduct evaluations and provide resources for patients in hospitals and emergency rooms, so it would only require a small amount of training focused on mild TBI cases for her advice to be feasible.