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  • Joanna Mestre

Learn how social prescribing may boost diabetes remission rates

Could an Rx to a cooking class, a walking group, or a support network help your patients?

Many chronic diseases are related to lifestyle choices yet many of us know changing our habits can be very challenging. Could social prescribing be the missing link to help patients get the support they need to make behavioral changes, such as changing what they eat to help put type 2 diabetes into remission?

That’s the topic that will be explored by two social prescribing experts at the IPTN’s October 21 annual conference. The conference theme is on navigating the complexities of a food-first approach to type 2 diabetes remission.

In the final presentation of the day, Dr. Grace Park, Regional Medical Director for Home and Community Health Services for Fraser Health, and Sonia Hsiung, Director of Community Health and the Canadian Institute for Social Prescribing (pictured at right), will delve into the promise and practicalities of social prescribing for health issues like type 2 diabetes.

What is social prescribing?

The Canadian Institute for Social Prescribing defines social prescribing as “a means for healthcare providers to connect patients to a range of non-clinical services in the community, in order to improve their health and well-being.” Examples of social prescribing include writing a prescription for a patient to register in a dance class, join a community gardening group, or go for walks in nature. Remember the old adage about teaching, rather than giving, a man fish? Social prescribing can be akin to connecting a person to someone with the fishing skills to teach them.

How could social prescribing help improve Canadians’ health outcomes?

People are gradually recognizing that health is more than whether someone has an illness or disease. Several examples of how social prescribing can help with health outcomes are now emerging. The National Academy for Social Prescribing in the United Kingdom is collecting evidence of its benefits, which include enhanced physical and mental health, support for common life stressors such as personal finances, social justice, and legal issues, or simply connecting people to nature, arts, culture, or friends.

As the media has recently reported, doctors are now being slammed with non-medical cases. Social prescribing could help patients get the practical help they need that can’t be found in a medical test, procedure, or prescription pad. While social prescribing does not remove the need for society to focus meaningfully on addressing the social determinants of health (such as education, poverty, employment, etc.) it may help focus social policy on where it might do the most good.

How could social prescribing relate to type 2 diabetes remission?

To successfully achieve type 2 diabetes remission with a food-first approach, patients usually need to change how and what they eat. This requires behavioural change from the individual and often support from their family and social networks. Social prescribing could link the individual to an appropriate cooking class, walking group, or community garden to grow healthy food.

The hidden key to social prescribing is not the group or program, however, but the ‘link worker’ who acts as a consistent point of contact for the person with a health issue, helps them believe in their ability to change, links them to choices and options, and regularly checks on their progress. The consistency of being connected with a caring and knowledgeable support person, who believes you can change, can make a huge difference in a patient’s health journey and can be life-changing.

If this emerging facet of healthcare outcomes interests you, be sure to register for the IPTN annual conference on Saturday, October 21 to be enlightened and inspired on how social prescribing might be incorporated into remission approaches.

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