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Medical-legal partnership: A powerful tool for public health and health justice

E. Tobin-Tyler, J.B. Teitelbaum
Public Health Rep

A medical-legal partnership (MLP) is a collaboration between a health care organization and a public interest law organization to address health-harming social needs that have civil law remedies. In August 2018, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program compiled evidence of the effectiveness of MLPs. This compilation indicated that, among other things, MLPs can improve patient health outcomes, improve patient well-being, improve patient mental health and reduce patient stress, improve patient adherence to recommended medical treatment, remove barriers to health care for low-income families by addressing cost and insurance concerns, and increase access for individuals and families to stable housing and other social supports. This impressive, although nonexhaustive, list of potential MLP benefits nonetheless begs an important question: Are MLPs best viewed as a downstream, individual (ie, patient) health care intervention that activates only after physicians, social workers, and case managers have worked to the top of their license to assist a patient in need, or can an MLP also properly be viewed as an upstream, population health intervention able to effect policy change at the institutional, community, and even broader levels?

We contend that MLPs can operate at both the individual and population levels. We begin by providing a brief overview of MLPs and then turn to a discussion of MLPs as a public health law intervention. Finally, we describe opportunities for collaboration among MLPs, public health lawyers, and public health practitioners.

Tobin-Tyler E, Teitelbaum JB. Medical-legal partnership: A powerful tool for public health and health justice. Public Health Rep. 2019:33354918824328. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 30644791. DOI: 10.1177/0033354918824328.

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Commentaries & Blogs
Social Determinant of Health
Legal Services