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Social prescription – Why a ‘Wellbeing Script’ can start tomorrow?

We are exploring the concept of a ‘Wellbeing Script’ – how it might work, and most importantly, how it can simplify a referral pathway between clinicians, their patients, and their local Neighbourhood House – those powerhouses of social connection. This opens a world of possibility largely revolved around a referral model bringing patients from disconnection to social connection with positive health impacts. We have discovered many gems and ‘natural social prescribers’ already in our project in the Central Highlands region of Victoria. They are the forward thinkers in medicine who seamlessly practice prevention, as much as preventative and primary care in their daily consultations.

One such gem is Dr Kevin Lee, an endocrinologist and specialist physician who fell in love with Clunes many years ago and continues to practice in this vibrant little community. Dr Lee champions the importance of social and community connection and refers patients in his consultations to a range of health promoting activities not as an extra but a fully integrated part of clinical practice.

Dr. Lee believes it is “simple and day to day practice, you don’t need an extra session just to socially prescribe”. Dr. Lee can share many stories of light social prescribing benefitting his patients. One such patients he recalls presented with obesity (BMI of 37), prediabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and was wheelchair bound. Dr. Lee noticed that they had an interest in gardening in their backyard. After engaging them with the benefits of horticultural therapy, he had essentially ‘prescribed’ them a course of increased gardening activity which not only increased their dietary fiber intake from their own produce, but over time, they “no longer needed a cane to walk, reversed [their] prediabetes to normal and [could] drive to go back to work [again]”. Her husband was also able to demonstrate his support for her by building raised vegetable boxes and platforms to garden on. In just over six months, they achieved more than 15% weight loss, from 106.9kg to 89.4kg, which is equivalent to a gastric band intervention.

Dr. Lee and Lana de Kort, Clunes Neighbourhood House Manager, have teamed up to imagine what is possible in their community. As a start they have designed and are at present delivering and intensive lifestyle modification program “Weight off my shoulders” with their community. The first program was full upon announcement, we look forward to hearing about the health and wellbeing impact in the future.

Sometimes it is nice to know we can just get on with it – try things, iterate, try again. We don’t need to wait for the perfect system for social prescribing, we can lightly prescribe right now- with the resources available in communities across Victoria, and certainly sign-post pathways for health and wellbeing.

Dr Kevin Lee