02.12.19

Research shows group membership leads to 25% fewer healthcare appointments

A new study from researchers at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has shown that being a member of a community group can lead to a 25% reduction in health care use.

The new information highlights the importance of connecting patients with their local communities and the huge benefits of social prescribing.

Patients with chronic conditions can often feel worse due to things like depression and obesity, made even worse by their lack of social interaction.

Social prescribing is the idea of treating patients with a personalised programme of practical, emotional and social support, in stead of just medication.

The two-part study, published in BMJ Open, looked specifically at the Social Cure perspective. This is the theory that social groups patients belong to have a critical and positive effect on health and well-being, but only to the extent that you identify with them.

In-depth interviews with GPs, health coaches, link workers and patients on a social prescribing pathway to build a case for how far social factors influence health.

It also looked at how well-equipped healthcare workers are at identifying when a person is socially isolated or disconnected and how group membership can help to remedy this.

Dr Blerina Kellezi, lead researcher and senior lecturer at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “The GPs we spoke to recognise the limits of the traditional medical model in addressing patient well-being, especially those with complex chronic conditions. They expressed that a change is required in terms of how health, well-being and social concerns are understood and addressed by health services and society, as the NHS traditionally does not address social isolation. Achieving this would require a broader approach addressing mental, physical and social health.”

Results of the second part of the study found that the groups who increased their social group membership during the four-month study led to a significant reduction in primary care use.

This includes a 25% reduction in appointments made, as patients had a sense of community belonging and weren’t feeling as lonely.

Dr Kellezi added: “Until now, research hasn’t explored how and why social prescribing really works. Our findings support the theory that Social Cure, when people identify and feel a sense of belonging with a group, should inform how social prescribing pathways are designed to achieve maximum benefit.”

“For instance, these initiatives should reconnect isolated patients with their local community in order to help them better cope with loneliness and focus on the important role played by patients’ local communities in enhancing this sense of connectedness and belonging.”

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