Last year the V.A. launched "a new social prescribing program" called Compassionate Contact Corps. Originally a home visit program, it was restarted as a teleservice to veterans who experienced loneliness and social isolation from the pandemic. Approximately 1,000 veterans participate in the program, which includes phone or video calls with trained volunteers and requires a referral from the veteran's medical care team.
"Veterans we couldn't reach with the In-Home program can be reached with the Phone Buddy program," said Prince Taylor, associate director of the V.A. Center for Development and Civic Engagement. "Most of the time, the veterans who have participated in this program tell us that it helps them."
But how exactly? And can social prescribing results be measured accurately? "I would have no hesitation in saying that socialization is an important aspect of health," said Cleveland Clinic neurologist Marwan Sabbagh, director of translational research at the clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. “But quantification has to be done in a way that is generally accepted. We can measure things like memory and cognition, but I don't know of any ways we can clinically measure or quantify social isolation. "
He added that researchers in other disciplines – the social sciences, for example – may have tools to help with this and could play a role in the development of social prescribing protocols in the US.
The authors of a recent New England Journal of Medicine article on the UK model of social prescribing agree that better assessment methods are needed. While describing the impact of social prescribing as "profound," they noted that "clinicians need reliable information about which interventions work best for whom, and how best to integrate social prescribing into conventional medical practice."
Some see this as related to a major shift in medicine towards a more holistic approach. "We have to remember," said Dr. Kasaraneni, "People don't come to us with a list of medical problems; they come with a life and a life that can have medical, but also social and emotional problems."
Other doctors say social prescribing in the US may become the norm sooner rather than later. "I think the pandemic really opened the door to things like this," said Dr. Malissa J. Wood, co-director of the Corrigan Women & # 39; s Heart Health Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center. Dr. Wood has established structured support groups as part of community programs she has developed to improve the cardiovascular health of low-income, high-risk women.