Case management has been around since the 19th century and has evolved into a broad and complex set of advocacy, communication, and resource management practices used in healthcare, social work, and related fields. The Commission for Case Manager Certification explains that “case management is a collaborative process that assesses, plans, implements, coordinates, monitors, and evaluates the options and services required to meet the client’s health and human services needs.”
To best address the different needs of various communities, researchers and practitioners have developed a range of case management practices and models. A case management model is a set of guidelines, processes, and procedures for case managers to most effectively deliver the appropriate services and care to their constituents.
Different contexts call for different approaches to case management. Therefore, strong case management practices must be carefully adapted to match each situation’s needs, constraints, and resources. For example, adults with physical disabilities may be best served by the brokerage model of case management. At the same time, that approach may be irrelevant or even harmful to children with mental health issues or teens recovering from substance abuse or addiction.
While there is a vast range of case management models, four stand out for their adaptable, evidence-based approaches. As we review each model, consider how it could fit into your organization’s case management approach to streamline services and support your community.
Building a solid case management approach begins by identifying a foundational model that can be adapted to meet the needs of your specific clients and resources. First, let’s determine the best model for your practice.
The brokerage model is a straightforward approach to case management in which caseworkers attempt to help clients identify their needs and broker supportive services in one or two contacts. This model assumes that a client will voluntarily use needed services once they know they are available and learn how to access them. In this sense, this model works best when a client’s biggest challenge is access to services rather than availability.
In a brokerage case management model, the social service provider/case manager provides very little direct service to the client. Instead, they serve as a link between a client and community resources and focus on assessing needs, planning a service strategy, and connecting clients.
In many cases, a brokerage case management model may place less emphasis on monitoring and measuring outcomes. However, the organization providing case management services in a brokerage model may be able to coordinate data collection and assessment across service providers. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through an integrated case management system.
When service providers and case managers use integrated systems to assess needs, track services, and measure outcomes, they can easily capture important information about their coordinated efforts.
A clinical case management model recognizes that many clients face barriers to services that reach beyond simple questions of access. In this model, a clinical care provider, such as a counselor or therapist, serves as the case manager.
As a clinician, the case manager in a clinical case management model provides direct counseling for a client’s individual concerns, including mental health services, addiction recovery support, or treatment for serious or chronic health conditions. When case managers provide clinical services, they have unique insight into the client’s needs. This increased level of understanding improves the case manager’s ability to identify needed services and connect the client with formal resources for community service providers.
More significantly, clinical care providers are well-positioned to encourage clients to connect with informal resources such as family, friends, and peers. That collaboration can increase the client’s willingness and ability to follow through with services.
With this model, the clinical case manager can help the client address social, emotional, and mental barriers to services. As a result, a clinical case management model can lead to more successful outcomes for clients who are less likely to engage voluntarily with services and need support over an extended period of time.
Like the clinical case management model, the strengths-based clinical case management model recognizes the value of community services, family, and cross-agency partnerships. In this model, case managers focus on empowering clients and their families, creating client opportunities for growth, education, and skill development.
A strengths-based case management model encourages the client to build and nurture informal support networks alongside identifying and accessing formal community services and institutional resources.
However, the strengths-based case management model steps away from the clinician’s perspective on the client’s needs. Instead, it encourages the client to take the lead in identifying their own needs, take control over the search for resources and services to address those needs, and view the community as a resource instead of a barrier to success.
Strengths-based clinical case management models involve outreach, clinical services, advocacy, and robust coordination between case managers and clients. Implementing a program based on this model requires that organizations and agencies support case managers with a robust case management system that can track highly individualized services and capture complex data and metrics.
Finally, the intensive case management model is the most intensive of the evidence-based models. Used in a variety of fields, this model aims to deliver extensive, high-quality services in a concentrated amount of time.
While the duration of this approach is ultimately dictated by the needs of each individual client, the goal is to transition them to less demanding services as quickly as possible. Generally, clients of this approach are those with the most significant needs, such as severe mental illness or addiction. To achieve fast results, the intensive case management model uses a low staff-to-client ratio in which case managers share caseloads to offer round-the-clock support and services.
However, because of its limited timeline, you may find that this model is too intense for some clients. If that’s the case, have a plan ready to adjust to one of the other models.
Once you’ve chosen your case management model, you’ll want to determine the best tools and software to support its implementation. When deciding which tools you’ll use, make sure they can adapt to any case management model.
With comprehensive case management software, case managers can track a client’s progress through programs, see what’s working well, and identify what needs improvement. As a result, you can save frontline staff time, make reporting easy, surface important insights, and, ultimately, have a greater impact on your clients.
While determining a foundational model is a great first step, successful case management requires ongoing education, development, and growth.
When you’re ready to continue your learning journey, we’ve compiled a list of additional resources to help you along the way:
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