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Exploring How Legal Aid Affects Health

A person with a chronic medical condition may not immediately think to look for a lawyer along with a health care team--but addressing legal concerns can have a positive impact on a patient’s well-being. That’s the idea behind Medical Legal Partnerships (MLPs), and the subject of a new interdisciplinary study pointing the way toward improving MLP research and working models.

Today, MLPs, or healthcare models that integrate legal assistance, are established in 294 healthcare organizations and legal institutions in more than half the country. The number’s been growing for two decades, but there’s a notable lack of research on their impact and how to improve them.

The new study, published this spring in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, addresses this disparity. It was conducted by Assistant Professor Omar Martinez, Associate Professor Miguel Muñoz-Laboy and Professor Jeffrey Draine, all of the School of Social Work at the College of Public Health, along with other researchers including Associate Professor Jeffrey Boles of Temple’s Fox School of Business.

They found just 13 studies directly addressing MLPs and only four rigorously studying them. Then, they identified the best ways for researchers to further explore the topic.

“This article leads to the next step,” explained Martinez. “We need more rigorous studies and theoretically-grounded models to study this.”

Doing so, he said, can lead to more effective models that help more diverse groups of patients benefit from MLPs. Currently, wide varieties of people with chronic medical conditions are negatively affected by different legal concerns.

Low-income families, for instance, often face legal issues such as having their utilities shut off or establishing custody of their children. Many people living with HIV and AIDS still face discrimination when it comes to housing, employment or other factors. Additionally, transgender individuals continue to experience pervasive discrimination in employment.

It’s an expansive topic that benefitted from an interdisciplinary approach, from intervention development to clinical practice. Doing so added a sense of practical knowledge to the research work.

“Capitalizing on the strengths of each discipline ultimately benefits the patients,” said Martinez.

Posted:  August 11, 2017