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Theories used to develop or evaluate social prescribing in studies: a scoping review

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Attached is a recent paper published in the BMC Health Services Research journal and below is the paper's abstract.


This scoping review aims to provide an overview of how theories were used in the development or evaluation of social prescribing (SP) intervention studies.


SP describes a patient pathway where general practitioners (GPs) connect patients with community activities through referrals to link workers. This review seeks to understand the explanations provided for the outcomes and implementation process of SP.

Inclusion criteria

Studies using a defined theory to develop or evaluate a specific SP intervention in primary care and the community sector.


This scoping review was conducted in accordance with JBI methodology. The following databases were searched on 8th of July 2022: PubMed, ASSIA, Cochrane, Cinahl, PsycINFO, Social Care Online, Sociological Abstracts, Scopus, and Web of Science. The search only considered English language texts. Additional literature was identified by searching relevant web pages and by contacting experts. The selection of sources and the data extraction was done by two reviewers independently.


The search resulted in 4240 reports, of which 18 were included in the scoping review. Of these, 16 were conducted in the UK, one in Canada and one in Australia. The majority of reports employed a qualitative approach (11/18). Three were study protocols. 11 distinct theories were applied to explain outcomes (4 theories), differences in outcomes (3 theories), and the implementation of the intervention (4 theories). In terms of practical application, the identified theories were predominantly used to explain and understand qualitative findings. Only one theory was used to define variables for hypothesis testing. All theories were used for the evaluation and none for the development of SP.


The theories influenced which outcomes the evaluation assessed, which causal pathway was expected to generate these outcomes, and which methodological approaches were used. All three groups of theories that were identified focus on relevant aspects of SP: fostering positive patient/community outcomes, addressing inequalities by considering the context of someone’s individual circumstances, and successfully implementing SP by collaboratively working across professions and institutional boundaries. Additional insight is required regarding the optimal use of theories in practical applications."

  • By

    Evers, S., Husk, K., Napierala, H., Wendt, L & Gerhardus, A.

  • Published

    Feb 12, 2024

  • Subject Area
  • Audience
    • Academics
    • Funders
    • Government (Politicians, Policy Makers) and Health Authorities
    • Service Providers (Non-profits, Community Organizations, Local government)
    • Caregivers, Seniors & Volunteers
    • Government
    • Health Authorities
  • Category


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