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Five key metrics to assess your social prescribing scheme

From wellbeing to service user satisfaction - these are the metrics that demonstrate the efficacy of social prescribing to help increase funding and convince policymakers.


Social prescribing enables healthcare professionals to address non-medical factors that cause poor health. In general, this means harnessing voluntary and community sectors to promote self-management of health. Most social prescribing schemes involve link workers who support clients to identify and achieve wellbeing goals. There is, however, no single model of social prescribing.

For this reason, evaluating social prescribing schemes is significant. Having evidence of the impact of a social prescribing scheme on clients eases the process of obtaining funding for social prescribing. In the long term, proving efficacy is key to convincing policymakers to invest in these types of interventions.

Here are the five key metrics to assess your social prescribing scheme.

1. Health and wellbeing improvement

Given its person-centred approach, a key metric to test social prescribing is wellbeing improvement. A shared definition of 'wellbeing' is now set in primary legislation through the Care Act 2014. This includes personal dignity, control over day-to-day life, positive relationships etc.

Wellbeing assessments ought to focus on what is important to people. This refers to personalised, self-identified outcomes at an individual level. One example is the ONS Subjective Wellbeing tool, which is recommended by What Works Wellbeing, an independent centre that develops and shares wellbeing evidence to improve decision-making.

This involves 4 personal wellbeing questions with a 10-point scale. Broadly speaking, its approach entails asking people how they felt yesterday rather than how they feel today. Many Richmond Group charities report preferring ONS 4 to other tools. Primary reasons cited for this include:

  • being free to use;
  • questions being adaptable to people with a range of needs;
  • staff feeling comfortable using it;
  • the 10-point scale being sensitive enough to track changes over short-term interventions.

Joy has various in-built, industry-standard wellbeing assessments within its system. However, social prescribers also have the option to create and customise their own. Such data is key to assessing the effectiveness of social prescribing schemes. It allows social prescribers to monitor wellbeing improvement over time and identify fluctuations whilst accessing services.

2. GP appointment reduction

Another key measure to test the efficacy of social prescribing is the change in demand for medical services. Narrowing it down further, reduced GP attendance is a primary outcome to record and measure.

Much research has looked at the effect of social prescribing on demand for GP practice. Social prescribing reduces the strain on NHS services. It also enables people to access more targeted support. Research shows that following referral to community services, there has been an average of 28% reduction in GP attendance.

Still, it is important not to conflate an increase in GP efficacy with cost savings. Reduced GP workload does not always equate to financial outcomes. Rather, the health and wellbeing of clinicians themselves have improved as social prescribing provides solutions for patients with complex social needs. Previously clinicians may feel ill-equipped to tackle these.

Joy tracks the frequency of a client's GP appointments. In this way, there is evidence tabulated on the impact of social prescribing on this metric.

3. Time elapsed between referral and first contact

The efficacy and speed of the social prescribing process itself are significant. Of primary importance is the time taken between referral and first contact. The shorter this interval, the better the experience is for the client. This reduces anxiety and improves the quality of life of patients. Clients will also feel supported through the social prescribing process. By extension, the more likely they will attend the service in question.

On Joy, link workers and/or healthcare professionals can make referrals via the platform. The system can then track the lifecycle of the referral. If a referral is outstanding for several days, community organisations are sent a nudge. This helps to improve the response rate.

4. Patient satisfaction with services

Gauging whether a client had a good experience with a community organisation thus far has been anecdotal. Yet, an organisation's ability to support a client effectively is paramount to quality social prescribing. This is not only relevant for service users but also social prescribers. Depending on the level of satisfaction, link workers may then determine, if an organisation should be receiving referrals.

For example, research on a social prescribing scheme in Northern England found that clients considered the flexibility of the service a strength. This enabled individuals to have control over when and how they accessed link workers and/or activities in the community. The study also notes that a good understanding of local voluntary and community sectors is key to its success.

Most community organisations on the Joy platform are commissioned by the local authority. These are all assessed using the SAFER framework. Social prescribers can feel confident referring clients to services using Joy, as all organisations have been quality-assessed and assured. Furthermore, Joy asks clients to rate their experience, providing tangible evidence by service users.

5. Demographics and need

Lastly, keeping track of the demographics and needs of those using a social prescribing service is important. This data highlights the key needs within an area, those who are using these services, and also informs gaps in provision that may need addressing.

Collecting demographics, e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, allows assessing effects in one group that may not be obvious in a broad sample. Level of education, employment status and housing situations are also useful data. These ensure strategies are in place to reach distinct groups.

Social prescribing empowers individuals to take control of their health and wellbeing. Yet, to ensure prolonged success, steps must be taken to evaluate social prescribing schemes. This helps assess the efficacy and reliability of the scheme itself and local community support services.

Joy allows all of these assessments to be completed within just a few clicks. Joy provides key data on all relevant metrics to help commissioners test how successful their scheme is at improving client wellbeing, reducing strain on the NHS, sourcing quality services for clients, and saving money.

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