July 14, 2024

Holistic Pulse

Healthcare is more important

Social prescribing: giving a name to whole-person care

2 min read

Read: Dr. Dominik Nowak: To move Canada’s health system into the future, focus on relationships

Finding the right social prescription

A social prescription can cover a wide range of needs, from helping a person connect to a caregiver support service for an aging parent to sourcing affordable and nutritious food to joining a walking group. Matching a person with the most helpful connection starts with open and transparent conversations. 

Tameika Shaw, manager of primary healthcare services at TAIBU Community Health Centre in Scarborough, Ont., advises talking to patients about any barriers impacting their health or preventing them from following our clinical recommendations. She also sees value in training and empowering all staff who come into contact with patients to introduce social prescriptions that could be a good fit.

Shaw tells the story of older adults in her centre and a café in a nearby mall where they used to gather after walks in the morning. One day, the café was shuttered. The social prescribing navigatorHathor-Ra Phoenix Adwoa, heard their concerns and recommended the centre start an in-house coffee drop-in, where people could gather for conversation and games, and local service providers could join to share information about offerings relevant to their health.

“Building social prescribing into your practice is a journey. Not everyone has the team capacity to support large-scale programs, but even small changes like empowering staff or documenting your social prescriptions to follow-up on barriers help formalize intentional, whole-person care,” Shaw said.

Getting started

To help health professionals get started, the Centre for Effective Practice (CEP) developed a comprehensive social prescribing resource in collaboration with the Alliance for Healthier Communities, the Canadian Institute for Social Prescribing, and St. Michael’s Hospital academic family health team (AFHT).

The CEP resource is designed so that no matter the practice type, location or background with social prescribing, doctors have the necessary guidance to implement social prescribing, find local resources, and make successful referrals. Ideally, practices would be supported by a link worker or systems navigator to whom doctors can refer, but the CEP resource also has approaches for clinicians who do not have these supports or are not in teams.

Especially for those of us in solo or fee-for-service practices, the demands on our time are extraordinary. When I was in a small fee-for-service practice, the key was finding my extended team. In essence, who could I connect this patient with to explore social interventions? The most impactful social prescriptions were versatile. 211, for example, offers services in over 150 languages and can help link people to local supports. Also valuable were connectors like the Ontario Caregiver Organization Caregiver Helpline and nearby Older Adults’ Access Centres.


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