The 3 Approaches to Medical Social Work Practice

ByMariah Stein

Social work in health care settings is practiced in collaboration with medicine and also with public health programs. Social work addresses itself to illness brought about by or related to social and environmental stresses that result in failures in social functioning and social relationships. (SW 250, Powerpoint, 3/1)sw hc 8.jpg

Medical social work incorporates three theoretical perspectives that are the foundation of all social work practice: the biopsychosocial model, a strengths perspective, and multilevel practice. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 200)


Biopsychosocial Approach:

  • Health is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” by the World Health Organization (1947). (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 201)
  • Although the medical model focuses on the disease and the treatment of the disease, the social work perspective differs in many ways.
  • (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 201)
  • The biopsychosocial model acknowledges the connections among the patients health, psychological state, family situation, employment, financial status, culture, religion, and neighborhood conditions. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 201)
  • Although social work is concerned with how the disease affects the patient, they are equally as concerned with how the patient and his/her environment affect the disease and the healing process. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)
  • This holistic view of the patient remains the focus of medical social work. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)sw hc 1sw hc 2

Strengths Approach:

  • The strengths approach acknowledges the resources within the individual and in his or her environment. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)
  • Although trauma, abuse, illness, and struggle may be injurious, they may also be sources of challenge and opportunity. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)
  • This approach believes that every patient should be involved in their own treatment plan. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)
  • Instead of patients being the victims of their disease, the focus is on the patient’s inherent ability to survive as well as thrive in the face of adversity. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)

Multilevel Approach: 

  • The multilevel approach combines the biospychosocial model and the strengths approach at all levels of practice (micro, mezzo, and macro). (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)


~focuses on the individual patient and family system. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)

~requires knowledge of the client population being served, including common health problems and frequently used treatment approaches (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)sw hc 5.jpg


~work with organizations and communities, mostly in a hospital or community-based agency for this field. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)

~requires knowledge of organizational settings (public, non-profit); range of health care services provided; the mission/vision statement; and authority structure, policies, and rules. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)

~it also requires the use of interdisciplinary teams and an understanding of how social work fits with the organization. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 202)

~lastly, involves an understanding of communities and the problems they face such as environmental hazards that may negatively affect residents’ health or barriers to health-care services such as limited health-care providers. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 203)sw hc 7.jpg


~involves policy analysis and development, program planning, and political advocacy for adequate and equitable health-care services for all Americans. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 203)

~requires thorough knowledge of national, state, and local health-care systems, including the rules governing eligibility, participation, and services provided. (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, pp. 203)sw hc 6.jpg



DiNitto, D. M., & McNeece, C. A. (2008). Social Work: Issues and opportunities in a challenging profession. Lyceum Books, (3rd Edition).

SW250 Class Lecture, PowerPoint, 3/1/16

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