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A care coordinator screening strategy to address health harming legal needs

D. Berg, A. Setrini, K. Chan, A. Cibulskis, K. Ameji, K. Hinami
BMC Health Serv Res

Background: Medical legal partnerships provide an opportunity to help address various social determinants of health; however, the traditional practice of screening patients during clinical encounters is limited by the capacity of busy clinicians. Our medical legal partnership utilized care coordinators trained by the legal service attorneys to screen patients outside of clinical encounters for health harming legal needs. The goal of our study was to demonstrate that our novel model could successfully identify and refer patients of a safety-net healthcare system to appropriate legal services. Methods: We conducted a mixed methods evaluation of the program. Data was collected during the implementation period of the program from March 2017 to August 2018. Operational data collected included number of patients screened, number of referrals to the legal partner, source and reason for referrals. Return on investment was calculated by subtracting program costs from the total reimbursement to the health system from clients' insurance benefits secured through legal services. Results: During the 18-month study, 29,268 patients were screened by care coordinators for health harming legal needs, with 492 patients (1.7%) referred for legal assistance. Of the 133 cases closed in 2017, all clients were invited to participate in a telephone interview; 63 pre-consented to contact, 33 were successfully contacted and 23 completed the interview. The majority (57%) reported a satisfactory resolution of their legal barrier to health. This was accompanied by an improvement in self-reported health with a decrease of patients reporting less than optimal health from 16 (89%) prior to intervention to 8 (44%) after intervention [risk ratio (95% confidence interval): 0.20 (0.04, 0.91)]. Patients also reported improvements in general well-being for themselves and their family. The healthcare system recorded a 263% return on investment. Conclusions: In our medical legal partnership, screening for health harming legal needs by care coordinators outside of a clinical encounter allowed for efficient screening in a high risk population. The legal services intervention was associated with improvements in self-reported health and family well-being when compared to previous models. The return on investment was substantial.

Berg D, Setrini A, Chan K, Cibulskis A, Ameji K, Hinami K. A care coordinator screening strategy to address health harming legal needs. BMC Health Serv Res. 2022;22(1):210. Published 2022 Feb 16. doi:10.1186/s12913-021-07440-x PMID: 35172814 PMCID: PMC8848941  

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Publication year
Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Social Needs/ SDH
Health & Health Behaviors
Social Determinant of Health
Legal Services
Study design
Pre-post with Comparison Group