The maturity of Social Prescribing
There is no significant standardisation across social prescribing software at present. NHSX recognises the need for standardisation and is consulting on the requirements for social prescribing software bought under its Health Systems Support Framework (HSSF) framework. Its
refers to both
standard as well as relevant taxonomies. A London Sport programme looking at “Social prescription and referral services” is funding a number of small pilots to explore the potential for increasing take up of physical activity where OpenActive data information, alongside some other potential tools, can be surfaced to Social Prescribers and their clients.
There’s a lot of overlap between the
standard for opportunities to be active and the
standard for service information. ORUK is an extension of the international
standard with an application profile designed principally for social prescribing by the Local Government’s
(PDF download) funded by the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport.
The terms “activity” and “opportunity” used by OA are largely analogous to the OR term “service”.
OA is a flexible standard that caters for describing a schedule of activities, individual bookable activities, allocation of bookable space (e.g. a sports hall that can accommodate multiple badminton courts) via the
defines the data structure for outdoor exercise routes. The two data structures of main interest (both derived from the opportunity data standard) to social prescribers are:
- describing an activity and the dates/times when it is delivered
- describing individual activities which are normally available for booking.
In the field of social prescribing, there are three levels at which software might apply standards:
Gathering intelligence on social prescribing activity and outcomes.
The benefit of data standards is that it will ensure that Social Prescribing software can fit seamlessly into the wider set of technology across a place. Without adopting common standards, software platforms will rely on duplication for the same type of information across a single place, the experiences for customers will remain poor and repetitive where information about services will be inaccurate and they will need to repeat their history for each single interaction. Ultimately this will drive up the cost of procuring these systems and the public sector will remain locked into costly contracts where the provider dictates the terms, as moving to a new provider is such an enormous undertaking.
The information below, therefore, provides an overview of some of the leading providers in the Social Prescribing application market. This information is based upon some light-touch market research and should not be taken as an authoritative assessment. It provides the context for ODI to consider how to best position the OpenActive standard into this marketplace.
Broadly, the market is fairly well-developed, in that there are a number of products with some traction in the market. This brief report cannot comment on the technical capability or performance of the products. What is a more important consideration is the digital maturity of the organisation and process that specifies the requirements for the procurement process. It was clear throughout the work, that providers will provide what is requested; what is missing is the commitment by local partners to adopt Open Data and Data Standards as a strategy, and to hold the providers to account to delivering against a specification.
For example, most pertinent obviously to this project is that none of the products to date are implemented in line with a true Open Data philosophy where the information is being captured once and re-used more widely across other software. Some of the providers are starting to pilot this capability, but the preference tends to be remain a desire to hold their own directory that is non data standard compliant as this tends to lock-in the contract, because moving the data from one system to a new supplier is such an undertaking. What is required is improved contracting and commissioning, which is recommended in the summary documents as critical.
As a further comment on digital maturity, the other consideration must be the digital maturity of activity and wider community service providers. The
offers some oversight of the digital maturity of the third sector across Lancashire. This was commissioned by Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System and delivered by Active Lancashire and does recognise the role of activity providers. The document demonstrates significant recognition that a single Directory (which by design must adopt a data standard) seems the right way forward, with 93% of the 239 organisations reporting to be very interested or somewhat interested in a well-designed directory.
The document does indicate that digital skills are a concern in the sector, although these have evolved markedly since March 2020, and that more broadly resource constraints continue to create bottle-necks. It also signals an important role for Open Data leaders to play to support the sector; for example that there needs to be a greater focus on the actual customer experience to be able to interface directly with the data that can answer their query in terms of service or activity offers. So for example, what activity or service do you want, what is the location, what eligibility or interests are important and what times of the day are available; that is what people are seeking. Digital for many in the sector remains a conversation about using Zoom, being computer literate and having a website; as an approach this will continue to deliver a customer experience that relies on trawling 15 different websites about 15 different potential offers, which often don’t actually deliver anything other than further signposting. The resulting work, informed in many ways by the research above work, across Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria to implement a system-wide Digital Catalogue is a leading example of how this can
, improving the customer experience and ensuring people are signposted more quickly to the most appropriate community service at the right time.
The platforms included in this brief market review, were based upon an understanding that they are a dedicated
software solution, where the main purpose is for the referral of patients (either from a Primary Care system or other route), the ability for frontline workers to refer or signpost patients, or for self-access and use or self-care use by clients or family members themselves, to the third sector and community assets or used to find services & physical activities in a local area.
The following list has been compiled from the
, supplier engagement and user research. Priority was given to application providers that could were found to be promoting Case Studies or there was evidence of
The following list of applications and their assessed capabilities is based on our desk based research with the available online resources. Further investigation with the providers will be required to establish a richer picture into their technical
The following resources were used to form a judgement on whether a certain platform offered the identified sets of capabilities. These judgements are indicative; in considering how to progress OpenActive are advised to provide an opportunity through a transparent procurement process for all providers to engage in any subsequent consultation.
Provider technical documentation
@Social Prescribing Platforms Market Exploration
the common core functionality of social prescribing platforms include:
• Hosting (and or linking to) a directory of services
• Monitoring capabilities
• Reporting and analytics dashboards.
Platforms that have integration with Leading GP systems such as EMIS can
Platforms that have the ability to manage referrals provide the capabilities of
@Notifications - Email / Text
Platforms that have the ability to book events or sessions provide the capabilities of
@Notifications - Email / Text
and may also provide
Platforms that have the ability to provide a
with taxonomies or offer reporting functions that provide the
Digital maturity assessment
The following social prescribing digital maturity index for social prescribing applications has been developed using the following broad categories. The two axes in the diagram below are “degree of integration between the software and other software across the care and health system” and “stand-alone capability of the platform itself”.
: A collection of information in some form of directory of services used within a social prescribing initiative
Social prescribing system that has progressed beyond a simple Directory of service to provide a platform that integrates with other social prescribing applications.
: Advance social prescribing platform with a full range of
that may also integrate with health systems
Social prescribing platforms were assessed against a series of evaluations to ascertain whether they are classed as
The shortlisted provider list from
@Social Prescribing Platforms Market Exploration
report is also used within the assessment. The findings in this report offer similar conclusions as the short exercise in this project. The providers have been mapped against the information below