What is Social Prescribing?

Social prescribing is a part of personalized care provided by a range of local, non-clinical organizations to people who need support for their physical or mental health through social interventions. The referrals for community-level services mostly come from healthcare professionals, including general practitioners, nurses, and other healthcare workers.

Image Credit: VectorMine/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: VectorMine/Shutterstock.com

What is Social Prescribing?

Social prescribing is a holistic approach to connect medical/clinical care with socioeconomic care. In this approach, health professionals formally refer people to community-based services that aim to improve people’s physical and mental health and overall wellbeing.

The link workers associated with this approach play a crucial role in understanding people’s needs and accordingly connect them to appropriate community groups for emotional or social support. Social prescribing can benefit a wide range of people, including those with long-term physical/mental health problems or complex social needs and those who are socially isolated.

The most common locally-available services associated with social prescribing include voluntary organizations, social clubs, hobby clubs, sports clubs, self-help groups, libraries, befriending groups, group-learning or gardening groups, and creative organizations. Many national organizations, including the National Health Service, England, the Royal College of General Practitioners, UK, the Mayor of London, and the National Institute for Health Research, UK, have actively developed patient-support networks through social prescribing.

According to the National Health Service, the infrastructure made for social prescribing will allow at least 2.5 million people to be benefited from personalized care by 2023 – 2024.

How can Social Prescribing be Promoted?

There are challenges in effectively implementing social prescribing. It is often difficult for busy healthcare professionals to keep track of the available support services. Moreover, a patient who receives a referral for a service does not always accept it without dedicated guidance.

The best possible way to overcome these challenges is to allocate link workers along with volunteers who will encourage patients to accept social opportunities while carefully listening to their needs. As a primary connector, link workers should have the ability to relate in an encouraging way to healthcare professionals, support-group workers, and most importantly to the patients with needs.

Another basic strategy to make social prescribing work is to have an updated and easily accessible database of opportunities.

How may Social Prescribing Benefit Patients?

According to the National Health Service report (common outcomes framework), the social prescribing programs available in the UK have significantly improved the overall wellbeing of patients who took these opportunities. The report mentions that the patients become more capable of controlling their health and wellbeing, as well as managing practical problems, such as debts, housing, and mobility. In addition, they become more active physically and feel less isolated or lonely.

A wide range of studies has also been conducted to evaluate the impact of social prescribing on patients. The findings of these studies indicate that social prescribing improves the self-esteem, self-efficacy, mood, confidence, and socializing skills of patients. It increases the patient’s improvement in prescribed health-related activities, including physical activities and weight loss programs.

However, a growing pool of evidence suggests that the benefits of social prescribing documented in the literature could be biased because of methodological reasons. There are studies demonstrating that despite providing better patient outcomes, social prescribing services cannot reduce the overall workload of general practitioners. In addition, it has been observed that social prescribing approaches that work through link workers are often very extensive and thus, cannot be included in routine care.

Regarding cost-effectiveness, studies have shown that short-to-medium term engagement of patients in social prescribing programs could positively impact anxiety level, general health, and quality of life; however, such engagement could not reduce the frequency of attendance and demands on services. Moreover, these programs are much costlier than the conventional care provided by general practitioners.

Image Credit: create jobs 51/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: create jobs 51/Shutterstock.com


Who can Benefit from Social Prescribing?

Patients with mental health problems and frequent attenders are better suited for social prescribing. In addition, socially isolated people and those with chronic health conditions (irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue) can be benefited from the approach.

Patients who do not share a good relationship with their physicians or do not get optimal benefits from a prescribed treatment regimen are more likely to choose social prescribing as alternative care.

Involvement of Health Professionals in Social Prescribing

Evidence suggests that health professionals often take longer to identify patients suitable for social prescribing. Only those with previous experience with the approach identify patients quickly.

Many burdens restrict the broadening of social prescribing into the psychosocial domain. The majority of agendas considered under healthcare organizations are biased toward medical models. This subsequently prevents the adoption of a more holistic approach like social prescribing.

What is social prescribing?


Further Reading


Last Updated: Apr 13, 2022

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.


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