Searching for real-world effectiveness of health care innovations: scoping study of social prescribing for diabetes

Karen Pilkington, Martin Loef, Marie Polley
See: Journal of medical Internet research 19 (2), e20, 2017

Social prescribing is a process whereby primary care patients are linked or referred to non-medical sources of support in the community and voluntary sector. Social prescribing is a concept that has arisen in practice and implemented widely in the United Kingdom and has been evaluated by various organisations. The aim of our study was to characterise, collate, and analyse the evidence from evaluation of social prescribing for type 2 diabetes in the United Kingdom and Ireland, comparing information available on publicly available websites with the published literature.

We used a broad, pragmatic definition of social prescribing and conducted Web-based searches for websites of organisations providing potentially relevant services. We also explored linked information. In parallel, we searched Medline, PubMed, Cochrane Library, Google Scholar, and reference lists for relevant studies published in peer-reviewed journals. We extracted the data systematically on the characteristics, any reported evaluation, outcomes measured and results, and terminology used to describe each service.

We identified 40 UK - or Ireland-based projects that referred people with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes to non-medical interventions or services provided in the community. We located evaluations of 24 projects; 11 as published papers, 12 as Web-based reports, and 1 as both a paper and a Web-based report. The interventions and services identified included structured group educational programs, exercise referral schemes, and individualised advice and support with signposting of health-related activities in the community. Although specific interventions such as community-based group educational programs and exercise referral have been evaluated in randomised controlled trials, evaluation of individualised social prescribing services involving people with type 2 diabetes has, in most cases, used pre-post and mixed methods approaches. These evaluations report generic improvement in a broad range of outcomes and provide an insight into the criteria for the success of social prescribing services.