As Ontario continues to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19, the importance of integrating health care and social supports is more critical than ever. While it is heartening to hear so many stories of informal community care, mutual aid and caremongering already underway across local communities, we must act now to ensure that these important gains continues to be deepened and strengthened in formal healthcare and community support delivery.
Read the final report:
- Rx: Community - Social Prescribing in Ontario Final Report, March 2020 (+ COVID-19 Letter)
- Rx: Communauté - Rapport final sur la Prescription Sociale en Ontario, Mars 2020 (+ COVID-19 lettre)
A new way to think about health care
What would it look like for the healthcare system to see a patient as a whole person, instead of focusing on just their medical diagnoses? What if, along with medication, doctors and nurse practitioners were enabled to prescribe dance lessons, cooking classes, volunteer roles, caregiver supports, single-parent groups, and connections to bereavement networks?
This kind of “social prescription” has been formalized in England’s healthcare delivery, and gaining international recognition. That’s because what makes people healthy isn’t just genetics and lifestyle choices. Access to healthy food, education, employment, income, and opportunities for connectedness all have significant impacts on a person’s overall health and wellbeing. Good clinicians know this and need a trusted system to turn to for the issues their clients face that are outside the providers’ medical expertise, time, or mandate.
As it offered an opportunity to demonstrate and deepen Alliance members’ work, eleven community health centres (CHCs) across the province participated in Rx: Community, Canada’s first social prescribing research pilot from September 2018 to December 2019. Using client- and community-centred design thinking, they identified non-clinical interventions, built a structured referral pathway, and tracked the impact of their work.
A structured way to integrate health care and social supports
Social prescribing is a specially structured way of referring people to a range of local, non-clinical services. It complements clinical treatments and seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way. This asset-based approach goes beyond treating illnesses. It recognizes people as not just patients with needs, but as community members with gifts to share, while supporting them to engage with and contribute back to their communities.
Social prescribing may look different in different communities, depending on local needs and capacity. Five essential components have emerged as the foundation of an impactful model of social prescribing: the individual or client, the prescriber, the navigator, the social prescriptions, and the data pathway.
Positive impacts on individuals, healthcare providers, and system integration & capacity
Rx: Community used a mixed-methods implementation evaluation that combined qualitative and quantitative research approaches to examine how social prescribing was implemented; clients’ and providers’ perceptions of the initiative; its effects on clients’ health; and its impact on systems within healthcare organizations.
During the year-long pilot, over 1,100 clients across 11 CHCs were provided a total of nearly 3,300 social prescriptions. Seventy-one of the clients who received social prescriptions were supported to become volunteer Health Champions who co-created and delivered social activities and programs.
- Finding #1: Clients reported overall improvements to their mental health and a greater capacity to self-manage their health, as well as decreased loneliness and an increased sense of connectedness and belonging.
- Finding #2: Healthcare providers find social prescribing useful for improving client wellbeing and decreasing repeat visits. They recognized the value of the navigator role, and, where it was not in place, they felt a need for more support.
- Finding #3: Social prescribing enabled deeper integration between clinical care, interprofessional teams, and social support; and it enhanced the capacity of the community through co-creation.
Social prescribing is gaining momentum in Canada among healthcare providers, community partners, researchers, funders, and policymakers. The wide interest and promising findings from Rx: Community shows that we ready to scale social prescribing broadly to support a more integrated health system and build more connected communities.
We recommend that:
- Policymakers, funders, and Ontario Health Teams can create fertile ground for social prescribing by investing in primary health care and social supports. They can further advance social prescribing initiatives with direct financial, material, and/or policy support.
- Health care, cross-sectoral, and social support organizations can build and strengthen local partnerships, adapt social prescribing to the needs and assets of their communities, embrace culture change, and develop strategies for data collection and use.
- Researchers and academic institutions can contribute screening and evaluation tools, conduct data analysis, and provide research support to health care and social support organizations.
The 5 key components of social prescribing at-a-glance
Watch this introductory video on social prescribing
- Social Prescribing Guidebook for Team-based Primary Care Providers in Ontario, September, 2020
- Rx Community - Social Prescribing in Ontario Final Report, March 2020 (Résumé en français)
- Rx: Community - Social Prescribing in Ontario, Progress Report, June 2019 ( English | French )
- Social Prescribing Media Release ( English | French )
- Social Prescribing Backgrounder ( English | French )
- Poster: Social Prescribing as a tool for building climate resilience, OPHA Fall Forum, November 23, 2019
- Connected Communities: Healthier Together, Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario, February 2019
- Fact Sheet: Spotlight on Reducing Social Isolation ( English | French )
- International: Social prescribing stimulus paper by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and Consumer Health Forum of Australia, November 2019
Looking for something older? Check out our Rx: Community Library.
- Social prescribing: A call to action, Canadian Family Physician, February 2021
- Using Self-Determination theory to understand the social prescribing process: a qualitative study, British Journal of General Practice, January 2021
- Social Prescribing: Creating Pathways Towards Better Health and Wellness, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, December 2019
Presentations and Webinars
- Event: Meeting Social Needs in an Integrated Health System: Social Prescribing During COVID-19 and Beyond, May 27, 2020 - Slides | Recording
-- Follow-up webinar: Social Prescribing in Practice, June 17, 2020 - Slides | Recording
-- Follow-up webinar: Social Prescribing in Research, June 25, 2020 - Slides | Recording
- Webinar: Arts on Prescription: Improving health and wellbeing through arts participation, October 6, 2019 - Recording | Slides | Resources
- Webinar: Connectedness, Purpose, and Belonging: Role of Social Prescribing in Integrating Health Care and Social Supports for Older Adults, April 29, 2020
- Webinar: Lunch ‘n’ Learn: Social Prescribing - Collaborating for Systems Change, December 6, 2019
- Presentation: Social Prescribing Boot Camp presentation, Community Health Connections Conference, June 11, 2019
In the Media
- Social prescribing: The next step for equitable healthcare, Healthy Debates, August 20, 2020
- For people living alone, quarantines and physical distancing present unique challenges, The Globe and Mail, April 21, 2020
- Social prescribing in the age of COVID-19, Upstream, April 15, 2020
- Prescriptions are for more than just drugs. Ontario Health Teams should use ‘social prescribing’ to improve our health and wellbeing, Healthy Debates, February 6, 2020
- 'It changed my life': New pilot project tests health benefits of social prescribing, CBC, December 24, 2019 (French)
- The cost of loneliness: Canadians are facing a solitary future — and it's affecting their health, Ottawa Citizen, December 19, 2019
- A doctor's prescription for social activities can have great personal and public health benefits (audio link), CBC Metro Morning, November 19, 2019
- Interview with John Paton, social prescribing participant at Belleville & Quinte-West CHC (audio link), CBC Ontario Morning, November 20, 2019
- Marginalized people need social connections, too, Toronto Star, November 11, 2019
- Let’s Wage a War on Loneliness, The New York Times, November 9, 2019
- Guelph doctors, health providers treat loneliness by prescribing yoga and crochet lessons, CBC News, August 14, 2019
- Pilot project has health team prescribing hobbies, social activities to patients, Collingwood Today, July 18, 2019
- Social prescriptions: Sense of belonging could be best medicine (video link), Global News, June 19, 2019
- Analysis: How to find friends in the age of loneliness, YorkRegion.com, April 9, 2019
- New Social Prescribing Pilot Comes to Ontario, Health Quality Ontario Quorum, April 1, 2019
- Better Health Care through Innovation, TVO - The Agenda, March 4, 2019
- Loneliness: the silent killer, University Affairs, February 27, 2019
- Social prescriptions: When a trip to the museum is just what the doctor ordered (audio link), CBC All in a Day (Ottawa), January 4, 2019
- A prescription for happiness, Belleville Intelligencer, January 3, 2019
- Doctors pen 'social prescriptions' aimed at easing depression, loneliness in patients, CTV News, January 1, 2019
- Ontario health-care providers explore social prescriptions to help patients heal without drugs, The Globe and Mail, December 17, 2018
- Doctor's orders: 'Social prescriptions' have been shown to improve health, CBC, December 9, 2018
- Editorial: Forget the pills, play bingo, The Hamilton Spectator, December 9, 2018
- Doctors can now issue prescriptions for free visits to the ROM, blogTO, December 6, 2018
- Doctors can now prescribe a visit to the ROM through a new initiative to combat anxiety and loneliness, Toronto Star, December 6, 2018
- Primary care providers exploring value of “social prescriptions” for patients, Canadian Medical Association Journal News, November 22, 2018
- How social prescribing is changing healthcare in Ontario, Establish Media, November 1, 2018
- Why doctors are prescribing bingo, not pills, to keep patients healthy, CBC, September 30, 2018
- Social prescribing (audio link), CBC Ottawa Morning, September 26, 2018
For more information:
Sonia Hsiung, Social Prescribing Lead
Alliance for Healthier Communities
Funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
The views expressed in the publication are the views of the Recipient and do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.