Does Your Health Team Include a Lawyer?

From the article by Mary E. Kennelly, on

When most people go to the doctor’s office, they don’t expect to leave with a referral to see a lawyer. This may be changing. At the primary care centers of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, when a patient presents with asthma symptoms and reports living in rental housing with mold, pests, or other substandard conditions, the family will have the opportunity go down the hall and speak with a legal aid attorney.

This arrangement, called a medical-legal partnership, adds public interest lawyers to the health care team in medical practices that serve vulnerable populations. As part of the health care team, these lawyers train their health care colleagues to identify patients where eviction, loss of employment, or any number of other civil legal problems limit the patient’s ability to achieve full health. The patient is then offered a consult with a lawyer, just as a physician would make a recommendation to consult a medical specialist. A growing body of research shows that medical-legal partnership adoption is associated with reduced hospitalizations, lower stress levels, and improved treatment adherence among patients who receive services from a medical-legal partnership lawyer.

Medical-legal partnerships are just one example of a continuum of legal and policy services needed to support communities in addressing social determinants of health — conditions in the environment in which people are born, live, learn, play, work, and age that affect health. Healthy People 2020 sets 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans and approaches the social determinants of health through a place-based framework with five domains: economic stability; education; social and community context; health and health care; and neighborhood and built environment.

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