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The role of tech in social prescribing

Digital technology creates a wide range of opportunities for improving the delivery of social prescribing programmes, from increased cost-effectiveness to a superior client experience through automation and communication.


Digital social prescription generally refers to social prescribing schemes facilitated by technology. These tools are still novel and developing but early evidence of their potential benefits is encouraging.

A recent report commissioned by the University of Oxford reveals that social prescribing has the potential to disrupt the current healthcare system by providing a more sustainable, less invasive alternative to pharmaceuticals. It also sets out how digital technology is crucial in provisioning social prescribing.

A digital health care landscape is not about replacing critical face-to-face services. Digital technology aims to streamline the process of social prescriptions. This would allow individuals to access support to improve their wellbeing more readily. People and communities, not information technology, lie at the core of digital social prescribing.

Patient-facing technologies

According to a report by consultancy WPI economics, smart devices should be employed in social prescribing schemes in the UK. These include wearable devices, monitoring systems, or lessons on how to use technology. This would increase the quality of life of older people suffering from loneliness, as it would allow them the freedom to connect with people over the internet for example.

Technology alongside, community services may encourage interaction, reduce loneliness, and foster active lifestyles. Learning to make the most of digital tools can help older people to manage their health. It can also aid in maintaining connections with friends and family or reaching out to new groups.

The Office for National Statistics indicates 85.5% (aged 65-74) and 54% (aged 75+) of adults as internet users in 2020. The NHS Widening Digital Participation programme also details the positive impact of digital inclusion on health. Among those backed by the programme, 52% felt less lonely and 21% had visits to their GP for minor ailments.

However, digital inclusion still has a long way to go. While these numbers seem promising, the barriers to tech and innovation for social prescribing remain. Factors including disability and race as stated under the Equality Act 2010, may hinder certain communities from using technology effectively. Some may find it difficult to use a computer keyboard due to poor eyesight. Others may lack digital skills and confidence. Limited access to devices and connectivity, or not seeing their relevance, are additional reasons cited.

Regardless, digital technology can still improve the delivery of social prescribing in other ways. This includes facilitation by a GP and/or link worker.

Technologies for health and social care professionals

A policy paper by the Department of Health & Social Care notes:

“Different people may need different services and some people will never use digital services themselves directly but will benefit from others using digital services and freeing resources to help them.”

This includes digital tools for GPs, nurses, and social prescribing link workers. 

Technology streamlines decision-making. It enables access to a database of community services, and client data management. Additional functionalities may also provide data to evaluate the efficacy of social prescribing. These constitute business process support, predictive analytics, and flow management.

For instance, social prescribing software, Joy, provides a multi-function system that captures these features: 1) case management system, 2) marketplace, and 3) insights app. The case management system supports day-to-day client-related tasks from case notes to referrals. The marketplace allows easy referrals to local services, which are automatically updated. Finally, the insights app tracks the efficacy of social prescribing itself. This entails preventive health initiatives, health inequalities and gaps in service provision.

Benefits of digital technology in social prescribing


Digital technology makes it cheaper for professionals in health and social care to manage client progress.


Users will be able to feedback as and when needed. Link workers and GPs are also informed of updates in local community services.


Health and social care professionals can check the progress of clients in their own time. They may also flag issues that need attention, and make changes to forms of support.

Easy communication

Trained users may make use of the platform to enhance communication skills. Social prescribers can interact with their clients 24/7 and send alerts if necessary.

With the NHS Long Term Plan in place, tech is especially essential to reduce the workload on link workers. At least 900,000 people are expected to be referred to social prescribing by 2023/24. A digital strategy will play a pivotal role in this productivity challenge ahead.

Social Prescribing Software

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