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Rx: Community - Social Prescribing in Ontario


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 our media release: Ontario’s Social Prescribing pilot project shows strength of community health interventions to systemically address social impacts of COVID-19 measures

Read the final report:


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.

SP client outcome   Social prescribing decrease repeat visits

What’s next?

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

Essential components of social prescribing pathway


Watch this introductory video on social prescribing


Key Resources

Looking for something older? Check out our Rx: Community Library.


Presentations and Webinars

In the Media


For more information:
Sonia Hsiung, Social Prescribing Lead
Alliance for Healthier Communities

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Funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

OntarioThe views expressed in the publication are the views of the Recipient and do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.