Social prescribing in Austria: First steps towards implementation

Every fifth consultation in primary care is due to health-related, non-medical concerns. Social prescribing is a promising approach to systematically address these concerns. It “enables GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services to support their health and wellbeing.”[1] Reports of social prescribing approaches in some countries, such as the UK, date back to the 1990s.

Daniela Rojatz, Health Expert at the Austrian National Public Health Institute, describes the first steps towards its implementation in Austria.

Austrian Health Targets

The use of social prescribing contributes to the Austrian health targets, which aim to increase healthy life years. Specifically, it helps make progress toward:

  • target 2: to promote fair and equal opportunities in health;
  • target 3: to enhance health literacy in the population;
  • target 5: to strengthen social cohesion as health enhancer.

In addition, new, multi-professional staffed primary care units have, amongst other things, the task of participating in population-related measures - a good prerequisite for the implementation of social prescribing.

 ©Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Approaches to social prescribing

In the initial phase, social prescribing was approached from several angles:

  • To address the social determinants of health and contribute to health equity as an initiative from the Austrian National Public Health Institute (GÖG). A fact sheet on social prescribing (Haas et al. 2021) was published and an event to discuss social prescribing with a key note speaker from the UK was organised in 2019/2020.
  • As a contribution to health-promoting primary care (as part of a project to systematically implement health promotion, disease prevention and health literacy in primary care units, funded by the Austrian Health Promotion Fund (FGÖ) and the Federation of Social Insurances). For example, a collaboration with the first initiative led to three outputs: (1) tools for implementers; (2) a checklist based on whether it is reasonable to implement social prescribing; and (3) a process concept for its implementation. Social prescribing was also included as a tool in the information folder on “health promotion, disease prevention and health literacy” for the primary care team (Rojatz et al. 2021).
  • As a contribution to community-oriented primary care and the promotion of social participation in the community (as part of a local project funded by FGÖ and the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection).

Model Regions

Based on these first activities, within the framework of the “Gesundheitsförderung 21+” of the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection, the GÖG was commissioned with the project “Preparation and implementation of social prescribing model regions”. The project included a 300.000 Euro funding call which enabled primary health care facilities and facilities for uninsured persons to pilot social prescribing.

The project steering group with representatives from the Austrian social insurance, the City of Vienna and the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection decided on the allocation of funds. Nine facilities were supported to establish social prescribing structures and processes from June to December 2021.

Within the project, the GÖG supported the project implementation by providing tools, a short training session for professionals with a link working function, including a documentation tool for the link working consultations, and organised networking meetings with the implementers. The latter served the exchange of experiences and the further development of social prescribing.

Key Elements

Social Prescribing is composed of four key elements:

  • Raising awareness amongst primary care teams for health-related, non-medical needs.
  • Network management: researching and maintaining contact with regional services to be able to refer to them.
  • Implementation of the link working method, whereby a link working professional (social worker, nurse, therapist) identifies and works out the patient´s needs together with the patient and refers them to an appropriate service.
  • Quality assurance, for example, through trainings for professionals or documentation of link working consultations.
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Within the funded period, relevant information of 178 people who received a social prescription was documented. 85% were referred to regional services. Almost all patients (98%) recommended social prescribing to others (Antosik et al. 2021).

In addition to this report on the evaluation of the needs and referral documentation (Antosik et al. 2021), the following products emerged from the project: an explainer video, a social prescribing handbook for implementers, a policy brief and a report of the external evaluation. Read the full report for all resources.

©Photo by daniel plan on Unsplash
©Photo by daniel plan on Unsplash

Promising steps

These first experiences of the implementation of social prescribing are promising but show that there is a need for further consolidation of the concept. As a result, implementation schemes of social prescribing in Austria will be elaborated upon in 2022 within the framework of ‘Agenda Gesundheitsförderung’ (Agenda Health Promotion), considering international experiences, enabling further implementation experiences and networking with related initiatives in Austria.

1. https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/social-prescribing

Antosik, Jennifer; Rojatz, Daniela; Ecker, Sandra; Weitzer, Jakob (2021): Social Prescribing. Auswertung Bedarfs- und Vermittlungsdoku. Gesundheit Österreich, Wien

Haas, Sabine; Bobek, Julia; Braunegger-Kallinger, Gudrun; Ladurner, Joy; Winkler, Petra (2021): Social Prescribing. Factsheet. Wien

Rojatz, Daniela; Holzweber, Leonie; Nowak, Peter (2021): Krankheitsprävention, Gesundheitsförderung und Gesundheitskompetenz in der Primärversorgungseinheit. Info-Mappe. Version 2.0. Dachverband der österreichischen Sozialversicherungen und Fonds Gesundes Österreich, Wien

Daniela Rojatz
Health Expert at Austrian National Public Health Institute (Gesundheit Österreich GmbH) | + posts

Daniela Rojatz holds a PhD in sociology and is a health expert at the Austrian National Public Health Institute since 2016. Her Main working areas are patient participation and Health promoting primary care. She currently leads the project “Implementing Social Prescribing in Austria”.

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