Africa: Imagine a World Where Doctors Can Prescribe More Than Just Medication

Welcome to a new frontier of healthcare, where unconventional therapies and interventions are changing the way we approach healing.

In this world, the realm of healing goes beyond traditional pharmaceuticals and embraces a diverse array of unconventional therapies, interventions, and activities such as exercise programmes, art and music therapies, gardening, volunteering, mental health support groups, social engagement activities, all aimed at fostering well-being and restoring health.

Imagine feeling not just physically better, but also emotionally fulfilled, socially connected, and empowered to take control of your health.

Yes, there are limitless possibilities when it comes to prescriptions that go beyond conventional pills and injections.

This practice is called “social prescribing”.

In an discussion on the future of healthcare, Dan Morse, the founding director of Social Prescribing USA, and Dr. Ardershir Hashmi, the Endowed Chair of Geriatric Innovation and Section Chief of the Center for Geriatric Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, take centre stage as they share their insights and experiences as trailblazers in the field of social prescribing.

Gone are the days of relying solely on medical interventions. Social prescribing is a progressive approach in healthcare where healthcare providers refer patients to non-medical community-based activities or services, with the aim of enhancing their overall well-being. This approach acknowledges that health is influenced by various social, economic, and environmental factors, and looks to address these factors to promote holistic health and well-being.

Morse highlighted the emergence of the novel movement and how many organisations, involving various stakeholders, are actively engaged in exploring and facilitating the implementation of this approach.

Morse reflected on how humanity often comes together to support each other during times of crisis. However, he pointed out that many of the challenges we face today, such as depression, obesity, and addiction, are silent crises that cannot be adequately addressed solely with traditional pharmacological approaches to pills and procedures. Morse raised thought-provoking questions, pondering the need for alternative approaches to address the prevailing health challenges in society.

“So we need something else. How can we address these as a society? What does the next-generation solution look like?”

Morse drew attention to compelling evidence supporting the positive impact of engaging in the arts on physical and mental health, citing a 2019 review conducted by the World Health Organization that analysed over 3,000 studies. He also referenced a 2020 study by Harvard’s School of Public Health showing that you live longer if you volunteer. These studies highlight the potential benefits of non-traditional approaches in promoting health and well-being.

Morse added that “numerous studies indicate that spending time in nature, having a sense of purpose, maintaining friendships and relationships, and addressing basic needs such as housing and food are all critical for overall health and well-being. This emerging understanding of health suggests that doctors should consider prescribing activities such as arts, nature, volunteering, and social services alongside medication, recognizing these activities as essential drivers of wellness.”

We’re really looking at a new chapter a new understanding of health that is emerging, and it starts with a simple idea and with a simple question. What if doctors prescribed more than just pills?”

“What if they prescribed arts, nature, volunteering, and social services that help strengthen health,” he said.

Morse further emphasised that “social prescribing serves as a means to heal individuals, equipping them with additional tools for self-care, and contributing to the healing of our society as a whole.”

But it doesn’t stop there.

Dr. Hashmi, one of the pioneers of social prescribing, highlights the importance of putting patients first in healthcare practices and incorporating creativity and artwork as therapeutic interventions. As one of the early champions of social prescribing, Dr. Hashmi noted that healthcare has become too focused on systems and structures, ignoring the central role of patients. This recurring theme of putting patients first should guide healthcare practices, enabling doctors to provide better care and service to those they seek to help.

He shared a personal experience of realising the effectiveness of social prescribing in their clinical practice, citing an example of a 93-year-old patient who had frequent emergency room visits due to loneliness and isolation, which resolved when she was able to resume ballroom dancing.