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US medical-legal partnerships to address health-harming legal needs: Closing the health injustice gap

Johnson DY, Asay S, Keegan G, Wu L, Zietowski ML, Zakrison TL, Muntz N, Pillai R, Tung EL
J Gen Intern Med

The medical-legal partnership (MLP) model is emerging across the USA as a powerful tool to address the adverse social conditions underlying health injustice. MLPs embed legal experts into healthcare teams to address health-harming legal needs with civil legal remedies. We conducted a narrative review of peer-reviewed articles published between 2007 and 2022 to characterize the structure and impacts of US MLPs on patients, providers, and healthcare systems. We found that MLPs largely serve vulnerable patient populations by integrating legal experts into community-based clinical settings or children's hospitals, although patient populations and settings varied widely. In most models, healthcare providers were trained to screen patients for legal needs and refer them to legal experts. MLPs provided a wide range of services, such as assistance accessing public benefits (e.g., Social Security, Medicaid, cash assistance) and legal representation for immigration and family law matters. Patients and their families also benefited from increased knowledge about legal rights and systems. Though the evidence base remains nascent, available studies show MLPs to be associated with greater access to care, fewer hospitalizations, and improved physical and mental health outcomes. Medical and legal providers who were engaged in MLPs reported interdisciplinary learning, and healthcare systems often experienced high returns on investment through cost savings and increased Medicaid reimbursement. Many MLPs also conducted advocacy and education to effect broader policy changes related to population health and social needs. To optimize the MLP model, more rigorous research, systematic implementation practices, evaluation metrics, and sustainable funding mechanisms are recommended. Broader integration of MLPs into healthcare systems could help address root causes of health inequity among historically marginalized populations in the USA.

Johnson DY, Asay S, Keegan G, et al. US medical-legal partnerships to address health-harming legal needs: closing the health injustice gap. J Gen Intern Med. 2024. Epub ahead of print. DOI:10.1007/s11606-023-08546-0. PMID: 38191972

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Publication year
Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Social Needs/ SDH
Health & Health Behaviors
Patient Experience of Care
Social Determinant of Health
Economic Security
Housing Stability
Legal Services
Study design