Can Treatment of Social Isolation and Loneliness Reduce Healthcare Utility? An analysis of Social Prescribing
The paper focuses on the practice of social prescribing as it is currently implemented through the National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom. Social Prescribing is an emerging healthcare intervention aimed at referring patients to community-based activities. NHS promotes social prescribing as a method of reducing healthcare utilization in chronically ill patients. Current evidence on social prescribing is subject to significant variation and has not supported NHS’s claims. The potential link between feeling of social isolation, loneliness and chronic illness was further investigated through data from the National Social Life, Health & Aging Project (NSHAP). Data was tested for correlations between respondents’ self-report of heart problems (chi-squared) and systolic blood pressure (Pearson’s correlation), in relation to survey measures on subjects’ level of social isolation and loneliness. To control for common comorbidities of cardiovascular disease, respondents were excluded if they reported current smoking status, diagnosis of diabetes, or waist measurements relating to obesity. Logistic and linear regression was then performed to identify predictive models for self-reported heart problems and systolic blood pressure respectively. The study provides limited evidence for to support the impact of social prescribing. This limitation is driven by the high degree of variation amongst reported outcomes. Future policy initiatives should focus on developing the body of literature and establishing clear expectations for patient prognosis.