Working towards evaluating the value of Social Work (SW) in an acute hospital setting

Prof Liisa Laakso1, Jody Arundel2, Tina Bruhl2, Lisa Clucas2, Michelle Daly3, Jody Ebenezer3, Cherelle Evans2, Natalie Halpin3

1Mater Research, South Brisbane, Australia, 2 Mater Mothers’ Hospital, South Brisbane, Australia, 3Mater Hospital Brisbane, South Brisbane, Australia

Introduction: Evidence-based, low variability care is increasingly expected as standard in healthcare. Health care practitioners are rightly expected to demonstrate the value of services and interventions provided to patients. Despite social workers having a strong presence in the multidisciplinary team in most public and some private hospitals, the profession has historically had a low evidence base largely due to SW focus on the individual in environment. At the Mater Hospital Brisbane, we set out to develop evidence of the value of SW as perceived by non-SW staff working in critical care areas across adult and neonatal services.

Methods: Through an iterative process, the investigators have (1) defined why it is important to measure the value of SW, (2) interrogated the literature to identify previous research in this field, (3) defined a research question, (4) determined how best to answer the research question, and (5) designed the study protocol for piloting the survey instrument.

Results: A survey to evaluate the value of SW in an acute hospital setting has been designed. The survey has the following domains: respondent demographics; reasons hospital staff refer to SW (aligning with AASW descriptors of SW practice in hospitals); expectations, experience and global impression of social workers; perceived value, impact and scope of SW; and service quality improvement factors.

Discussion: The described process has had multiple benefits including:

  • Increasing SW research literacy (knowledge and skills of the research process, and knowledge translation)
  • Clarifying research ethics and governance matters
  • Demonstrating how service inquiry can inform research that benefits SW services
  • Engaging social workers in research inquiry aiming to provide evidence of the value of SW in the critical care setting

Upon completion of the pilot phase, the survey will be reviewed in preparation for dissemination to other areas of the hospital.


Dr Liisa Laakso is Senior Research Fellow, Allied Health at the Mater in Brisbane where her primary role is to increase capability and capacity in health service research. Liisa is an Honorary Associate Professor at The University of Queensland, and Professor of Physiotherapy at Griffith University where she worked in full-time academe for more than 15 years before commencing at the Mater in January 2018.

Measuring Allied Health value through research: Evidence brief

Dr Tilley Pain1

1Townsville Hospital And Health Service, Townsville, Australia, 2James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

Allied health research (AHR) is close to clinical practice. However, the metrics for success in AHR is the same as other research modalities i.e. track record of papers and citations. While these metrics are important for rigour in the field, they do not involve the most important aspect of AHR – practice change.

The Townsville Hospital and Health Service (THHS) is building research capacity with the aim of improving clinical practice. Therefore, an instrument to measure the impact of research on clinical practice was sought by the Research Fellow employed in the role. Our solution was to imitate the Deeble Institute’s Health Policy Evidence Brief – a one page document to help policy makers quickly find what evidence exists in a topic area, describe how compelling it is and the implication for policy. THHS named the document Health Practice Evidence Brief. The purpose of our Evidence Brief is to provide a one page summary for THHS decision makers describing the clinical problem or gap, the research evidence to solve the problem or fill the gap and the resulting practice change.

Six Health Practice Evidence Briefs have been developed to date. They document a wide variety of practice change including: removal of a week’s delay between simulation and treatment for prostate cancer patients; all patients on fluid only diets referred to a dietitian if length of stay is 3 days or more; and patients continue wearing antibiotic infusion pumps during concurrent hyperbaric treatment.


Tilley is the research fellow at the Townsville Hospital and Health Service for all allied health and health practitioner staff. Her role is to build research capacity, conduct her own research and mentor/supervise allied health conducting research or higher degrees. Tilley’s background was as a medical laboratory scientist and was awarded a PhD in cardiac physiology. She has worked in the US and UK and in various fields including primary care, remote health, and clinical and bench research. The wide experience has proved useful in her current role of supporting 14 different allied health professions conduct research at Townsville HHS.


NAHC Conferences

2007, Hobart (7th NAHC)

2009, Canberra (8th NAHC)

2012, Canberra (9th NAHC)

2013, Brisbane (10th NAHC)

2015, Melbourne (11th NAHC)

2017, Sydney (12th NAHC)

2019, Brisbane (13th NAHC)

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