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The growth of doctors prescribing greater social connections, known as ‘social prescriptions,’ is growing as a counter to growing feelings of isolation throughout the population. 

This is not just a case of physicians encouraging their patients to get out and see friends. Social medicine is more systematic and often involves encouraging the use of structured group interactions.  Social prescribing attempts to meet people in the community where they are, and links them to social support structures.

The New York Times recently discussed social prescription by doctors in a  thoughtful article discussing developments in the U.S. and the U.K.

Here are some passages from the article:

  • Loneliness is a big issue. Any way we can develop connections can help.
  • ‘Social prescriptions’ are already being written in Britain, where physicians can now direct patients to a “link worker,” a trained specialist who focuses on connecting patients to community groups and services for practical and emotional support. Link workers not only connect patients with existing groups but also help create new groups, working as needed with local partners.
  • It’s not just older adults who benefit. Young patients with other chronic conditions and people with mental health issues. There are no age barriers, no limits on what social prescribing can support people with.
  • What social prescribing reflects is a recognition that loneliness affects our health, and we have a universal need to connect with one another.
  • This development of promoting social perceptions by doctors is linked to a larger shift in medicine toward a more holistic approach. We have to remember people don’t come to doctors with a list of medical problems; they come with a life, and a life that may have medical issues but also social and emotional issues.  
  • Doctors say that social prescribing may become the norm in the United States sooner than later. The pandemic has really opened up the door for this kind of thing. Doctors have used structured support groups as part of community programs, for example, such programs have been designed to improve the cardiovascular health.
  • People recognize that it’s not that hard to log on to a virtual group meeting, and it can bring people together who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to.

“Doctors Are Prescribing Ways to Connect Socially for Those Feeling Isolated.” New York Times (May 25, 2021).