Research has been commissioned by NHS Digital to find out how technology could transform the role of social workers.

‘Social Workers and Information Technology’ was carried out by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) in partnership with GfK on behalf of NHS Digital. It consisted of four focus groups, telephone interviews and an online survey of 786 social care professionals.

The research was carried out to gain insight into how technology can support social workers by asking them how IT is currently used in their role, and assess the gap between currently availability and requirements.

The NHS Digital figures revealed 98% of social workers cited at least one difficulty with sharing information digitally, with the most popular one being the attitudes of other agencies.

Also, 49% said they had a smartphone to support remote and mobile working, while more than a quarter of those questioned could only access case information in the office.

Research also showed those social workers who took part in the study had an appetite for technology, with 92% saying that it offered the ability to work more flexibly.

Social workers revealed they used technology to build and manage relationships with people accessing services.

This included communicating with them to gather specific data (as part of assessment), delivering interventions (such as self-guided therapy or telecare) and supporting team work (peer support and online supervision).

Mark Nicholas, chief social worker at NHS Digital, said: “The findings indicate that although social workers are keen to take advantage of digital opportunities, there are significant barriers around digital skills, systems design and guidance on information sharing.”

Back in 2016, Digital Health News reported on a similar research project from NHS Digital that looked at the state of IT in social care.