Case managers deliver life-changing, essential services. Their role offers primary services to individuals and families facing stressful, negative challenges, including severe mental illness, domestic violence, substance use disorders, and homelessness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five American adults live with a mental illness, and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the incidence of mental health and substance use disorders have increased.
Even before the pandemic, case management was deemed one of the fastest-growing occupations in America, according to the Bureau of Labor, with a predicted growth rate of 11% between 2014 and 2024.
We wanted to hear directly from case managers to find out more about the critical role they have in society.
In 2021, we polled 89 case managers working in youth and family services, homelessness, domestic violence, and employment services to learn about their daily work, challenges they face, and how their work habits have been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We analyzed 89 complete polls,
from a sample of 3,433 total.
82% of respondents
identified as female.
66% of respondents have
worked in case management
for over 8 years.
Communication and empathy
were ranked as key traits.
Burnout is a common challenge
for these professionals.
One-third of respondents
perform tasks virtually, whereas
two-thirds work in-person only.
2021 Best Practices in Case Management Survey Results
We recruited 3,433 respondents from 32 states in the United States and narrowed the polling group to 89 case managers who completed the entire digital survey. Eighty-two percent of the respondents identified as female.
About Our Sample
Line of work
The majority of respondents worked in youth and family services (26%), public sector of government (18%), or homelessness (17%). Ten percent worked in domestic violence or employment services.
Tenure of respondents
Nearly half of respondents have worked in case management for more than 15 years, and an additional 20% have worked in the field for more than eight years. Forty percent of respondents worked in case management for fewer than eight years.
In addition to years of professional, on-the-job experience, case management jobs typically require a four-year degree in social work, nursing, or psychology, and some roles require a master’s degree. In addition to an undergraduate or graduate-level education, case managers must be trained and certified to enter the field.
Core traits of respondents
Good case management requires hard work, patience, and continued dedication. It is a multi-faceted, often fast-paced, and demanding profession.
According to the 2021 survey results, communication, empathy, and problem-solving skills were ranked among the most important traits for case managers.
These professionals must also organize large amounts of confidential client information, which is why 14% of respondents ranked time management as a key aspect of the role. Investing in highly-rated case management software helps professionals gain efficiencies and organization at work.
Less commonly, 3% of respondents reported that having a moral code and being culturally sensitive were key components of the job. However, case managers working within culturally diverse populations must support patients across diverse backgrounds, values, and behaviors without making assumptions.
Case management can be stressful. Above all else, burnout was a hot-button issue for 50% of respondents. These workers are often burdened by emotional and physical exhaustion, and struggle to maintain healthy boundaries when it comes to prioritizing their time. Case managers are often asked to take on additional responsibilities that fall outside of their primary job duties, adding pressure to an already demanding role.
Thirty percent of respondents also ranked a lack of resources as a key obstacle, and 14% reported that a lack of organizational support interfered with their ability to succeed at work. Case managers who are equipped with leading tools, including flexible, customizable, and user-friendly case management software, are better able to manage their time and overcome these barriers.
Five percent of respondents said they have difficulty maintaining boundaries with clients.
In addition to our findings, a 2017 study revealed five common barriers for case managers: unclear scope of practice, complex case management tasks, insufficient training, poor collaboration across teams, and client relationship problems.
Case Management Methods
Day in the Life of a Case Manager
Case managers spend the majority of their time communicating directly with clients either via email, fax, phone, or face-to-face. Their ability to speak with clients clearly helps build trust and improves case outcomes.
Twenty percent of respondents said that data entry and organization are key aspects of their day-to-day role, in addition to intaking clients (18%) and scheduling meetings with clients (16%).
Case managers must also coordinate with care professionals and teams—often both within and outside their organization. Coordinating a comprehensive care plan and managing care across a matrixed team are key components of good case management.
The future of case management work: Virtual or in-person?
While many workplaces and employees have embraced virtual work in the wake of the pandemic, 70% of case manager respondents said that they do not perform client intake or meet with clients virtually. Many case management services are office-based. One-third said that they do perform these tasks virtually.
Virtual case management (VCM) – when done correctly and supported by compliant and secure VCM software – can help organizations continue to serve their clients, and gain at-work efficiencies while adhering to ever-changing public health protocols and flexible work environments.
Case management modalities
Case management typically falls into three key modalities: standard community care, intensive comprehensive care, and rehabilitation-oriented community care.
Out of the 2021 Best Practices in Case Management Survey respondents, 46% reported working in standard community care, 16% worked in assertive community treatment, an intensive comprehensive care model; and 15% worked in rehabilitation-oriented community care.
Best Practices in Case Management
What advice would you give to a new case manager?
Finally, we asked our sample one of the most important questions: what advice would they give to their younger selves starting out in the field? Here is a summary of what they had to say:
1. Communication is key.
This isn’t a surprise; as the majority of respondents previously rated communication and empathy as critical traits for a successful case manager. Twenty percent of respondents emphasized the importance of clear communication with colleagues and clients alike. Respondents also noted the importance of taking time to carefully listen to your clients to fully understand their needs. Building trust with clients and families takes time, patience, and active listening. Furthermore, case managers must be able to look at complicated cases through an objective lens in order to create an individualized, comprehensive care plan that fits a client’s unique care needs.
2. Don’t take work stress home with you.
The second most common response was related to burnout and high-stress burdens commonly associated with the work. Case managers cautioned newcomers to the field to establish clear boundaries between work and home life.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Case managers wear a lot of hats. A lot is expected of them, and even new case managers feel as though they need to hit the ground running. Our 2021 respondents – many of whom have worked in the field for more than 15 years – would advise newer case managers to recognize their limitations and ask for help when they need it. Along similar lines, they also advised new case managers to take their time. As the U.S. Navy SEALs motto goes: slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. When it comes to managing cases that have a tremendous impact on a client’s outcome, it is better to do the job correctly than to complete it quickly.
4. Be organized.
Every client’s case is unique–and so is every individualized care plan. Managing dozens of cases simultaneously isn’t easy, which is why many senior case managers emphasize the need for creating–and sticking to–an organized system. This involves continually updating data. Some software solutions – like CaseWorthy – automate data entry workflows to help simplify data collection, and allow for seamless, detailed reporting so case managers can immediately assess the characteristics of each case.
Case management is not an easy job, but it is a vital service that helps improve lives, health outcomes, and society overall. If you or a case manager you know would like to learn more about how software can help streamline case management, we would love to book a custom demo to walk through specific features with your team.