Medical-Legal Partnerships — a new paradigm for health care?

A PHS 795 student introduced me to the concept of Medical Legal Partnerships (MLPs), which integrate health services with the delivery of legal services (including help with, for example, housing code violations, domestic violence interventions, application for public health insurance,  etc) in addition to health care services. Our student writes:

The community health center I worked at the past 2 years, was working on putting together the infrastructure to have their own medical legal partnership. As a future physician, I think this type of collaboration is essential to addressing health disparities.

This article [medical-legal-partnerships] looks at how health care is changing. “For too long, society has ignored the extent to which social determinants of health (SDH)—the conditions in which people live, learn, work, and play—are inextricably woven into and affect individual and population health.” The social determinants make improving the health of an individual and the health of the population too great of a challenge for a physician in a short clinic visit. There are too many factors influencing the health and wellness of populations. Health professionals can only address and treat what a patient presents in the clinical setting. But when the ailment would be treated more effectively with a change in the patient’s home environment or social situation, how does the physician or health professional make that recommendation or change that environment?

One-way health professionals are working to address social determinants of health are through Medical Legal Partnerships (MLP). MLPs bring together the ability to treat health conditions of physicians with the ability to address legal needs of lawyers. In a medical legal partnership, the physician would “write a prescription” to the partnering lawyer stating the need for legal intervention. From here the lawyer, can proceed with legal action until the situation is resolved.

MLPs can work to address legal issues such as housing, healthcare access, citizenship, domestic issues, and any other situation that is causing a negative impact on the patient’s health.

The situation of every person is different, and for some, simply changing apartments or pursuing legal action on their own is not feasible. Patients may feel intimated, threatened, or unable to stand up for themselves due to a host of barriers, and MLPs provide people the opportunity and support to improve their health free from these barriers.


One thought on “Medical-Legal Partnerships — a new paradigm for health care?

  1. Medical Legal Partnerships would be a fabulous addition to every clinic, especially in areas with low resources. I worked in a clinic during medical school in the inner city of Milwaukee that had such a medical legal partnership. One family had a child with severe asthma. While the pediatrician discussed the home environment with the parents, we learned that there was mold in the home and old dirty carpet. It sounded as though the property would likely not meet code. The family had contacted the landlord, but he didn’t do anything about it. This is when the family was referred to the lawyer who volunteered as part of the medical legal partnership at the clinic. She worked with the family to rectify the situation and overall significantly improve the health of the young child.

    Currently, my practice mainly consisted on Latino patients, a number of whom are undocumented. Many of them have been taken advantage of by landlords. I have attempted to step in and help by writing letters discussing the health concerns and the impact of poorly maintained properties, but it rarely does anything. It reminds me of the far from honest landlords that we met through the book Evicted. If these medical legal partnerships were available in low resource communities, the cycle of poverty may be a tiny bit easier to break.


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