Healthcare demand drops 25% when social prescribing is used

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Feeling that you belong to or are part of a group can lead to a 25% reduction in the use of healthcare services by patients with chronic conditions, a study has found.

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University looked at how and when the concept of “social prescribing” is successful in improving health and wellbeing, and for whom, when it is recommended alongside medication.

Social prescribing involves social, emotional and practical support for patients with conditions exacerbated by loneliness. It often sees patients recommended to groups in their local community, such as a sports club, religious group or an art group, to support the management of their condition.

The study, published in the BMJ Open journal, asked 630 patients to complete a survey at the time they were referred onto the programme and a follow-up survey four months later. The survey covered membership of social groups; the sense of community they felt belonging in these groups; the level of loneliness they experienced and their use of primary care.

Group membership increased between the two surveys, alongside a 25% reduction in healthcare appointments and decreased feelings of loneliness.

Dr Blerina Kellezi, lead researcher and senior lecturer at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “Until now, research hasn’t explored how and why social prescribing really works. Our findings support the theory that Social Cure, when people identify and feel a sense of belonging with a group, should inform how social prescribing pathways are designed to achieve maximum benefit.

“For instance, these initiatives should reconnect isolated patients with their local community in order to help them better cope with loneliness and focus on the important role played by patients’ local communities in enhancing this sense of connectedness and belonging.”

The study says: “The supportive and encouraging role played by HCs/LWs [health coaches and link workers – those who connect staff to relevant groups and support their attendance], welcoming attitudes, acceptance from activity groups and the more global sense of being connected to their community were crucial prerequisites for any pathway benefits.

“In line with the social cure approach, the psychological and social resources flowing from rich group-based social connections were experienced as the root of SP’s positive effects.”

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