Exploring New Forms of 'Social-Based' Medicinal Prescriptions

Feb 26, 2019

An experimental method of health care aimed towards improving social well-being and community connectivity is decreasing the need for more traditional forms of pharmaceutical-based care. Michael Bordieri, Ph.D., Murray State University professor of psychology, visits Sounds Good to discuss the new medicinal trend. 

"Social prescribing" is a relatively new medical model, originating in the United Kingdom and recently beginning in Canada. Social prescribing is "empowering family doctors, family practitioners, folks who are on the front lines of medicine," Bordieri explains, "that when they see folks with either multiple health concerns or concerns that might benefit from social activities, engagement, or physical activity, to link them to another staff member who helps them then connect with all these activities out in a non-clinical area." 

According to the British Journal of General Practice, "this expansion [of medical practice] is in the direction of strong choices -- options that make available new life opportunities that can add meaning, form new relationships, or give the patient a chance to take responsibility or be creative. Usually these services need to be available locally and often within the voluntary, community, and social enterprise sector." Bordieri explains that these activities could mean attending a gardening club, going to a museum, libraries, or other hobby/social clubs. However, the activities chosen by the staff member would need to be customized for each specific patient. "The idea is to customize to the patient, because we want to connect with what they would do. It's not a one size fits all; we've tried that in medicine for years. It turns out, when you give [broad] directives like that, people really just don't follow through," Bordieri says. 

The key to this type of treatment is that it goes further than the doctor's room. A social prescription is more than a recommendation from a doctor before the end of the appointment; it's a connection to someone who can act as a coach, provide specific recommendations, and a sense of accountability.  This form of health care could also reduce the necessity of traditional pharmaceuticals. "If we look at health and well-being," says Bordieri, "we want to look beyond just 'take this medicine, take this pill' as the only way we can help encourage people to live more healthy lives." 

Behavioral psychology has already acknowledged social isolation as detrimental to overall health. Studies suggest immune systems function better when surrounded by individuals who care for them. "Simply knowing how many social contacts a person has," Bordieri explains, "[can] predict how long they might live. [Social prescriptions] might give a way to help that. It isn't prescribing friends, but it's prescribing ways to get more connected with people in our communities, and that can really make a difference."

"It's exactly in moments when we're feeling down, when we're feeling out and not wanting to get moving, that it's most important to make those connections. So I think this really offers a promise for folks who are struggling with difficulties, both physical and psychological, to get connected in their world, to be around more people, and to do some things that matter to them. That, you know, just seems like good medicine," Bordieri concludes.