5 Ways Medical-Legal Partnerships Can Help the Mission to #LegalHealth

Last month, Juris started a movement, the legal health movement. There are many factors that go into improving access to justice, including making the law more accessible through legal apps, but the involvement of people other than lawyers is crucial.

Legal health is a new way of looking at how people interact with the law in order to gain access to justice. It’s about understanding the rights you have under the law and being able to exercise them to protect yourself before you even need them. And it empowers people to access justice and understand that the law exists to protect them.  

Medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) are a crucial piece of the legal health puzzle. When physicians and lawyers work together, they’re able to better identify patients’ needs and determine how the law can help meet them, often leading to overriding policy solutions that advance legal health for communities at large.

Studies have shown the efficacy of MLPs. In a 2016 survey of MLP programs nationwide, 86% of health care organizations reported that MLPs improved patients’ health outcomes, 64% said MLPs improved patients’ compliance with medical treatment, and 38% found that MLPs improved clinicians’ ability to provide the best possible service.

Medicine and law intersect in a wide range of areas that impact people’s lives and rights on a daily basis. MLPs have important implications in areas such as landlord-tenant disputes, utilities and housing matters, immigration cases, tax matters, public aid cases, health insurance issues, and family law matters, just to name a few. Given the prevalence of these legal issues, more MLPs are needed to ensure that people are able to access the justice they need and deserve.

Building a Better System to Help MLPs Promote Legal Health

MLPs have great potential to help the mission of legal health, but they can only do it if they have the tools they need to spot legal problems early and handle them efficiently.  With the right tools on hand, here are five ways MPLs have the ability to promote legal health.

  1. Diagnose Substandard Housing. Substandard housing is a problem across the United States and, in addition to impacting quality of life, can have significant health implications. For example, lead paint can lead to lead poisoning and open the door to potential legal remedies, as can conditions that cause asthma. Physicians can proactively screen for these issues and, in cooperation with lawyers, alert patients to potential exposure and the accompanying legal rights they have to remedy the conditions before they develop severe health problems.
  1. Food Security and Access to Care. Many Americans cannot afford to feed themselves or their families without the help of benefit programs. Unfortunately, though, not everyone knows what benefits are available. MLPs can help direct patients to the right resources to identify which benefits, such as food stamps or other programs, apply to their individual situations. They can further help to ensure that patients continue to get access to the medical care they need through their insurance companies.
  1. Student Truancies. Every year, children across the country miss school due to medical issues. As these absences add up, they can lead to legal action for truancy, even though the absences are due to circumstances beyond the student’s control. Take, for example, the student with chronic asthma who lives in housing plagued by cockroaches and mold. Without help, the student’s family must deal with a truancy action on top of unacceptable living conditions. With the help of an MLP, however, the family is able to have their cockroach and mold conditions fixed, make sure their insurance benefits are in place to get their child proper asthma care, and get the school to understand that the absences are medically excused and drop the legal action for truancy.
  1. Unlawful Evictions. It’s not uncommon for tenants to face unlawful evictions for issues that are medically necessitated. For example, families who have children with asthma are often advised by pediatricians to use air conditioners to help manage the asthma. Certain landlords, however, oppose the use of air conditioners and threaten to unlawfully convict tenants for using them. MLPs can help these tenants to find legal remedies for the unlawful evictions and can even find additional leverage to force landlords to make other improvements in living conditions, resulting in overall health improvements for the children involved.
  1. Advocacy Work. After addressing enough issues, MLPs start to uncover patterns in patients’ needs that present opportunities to advocate for widespread policy solutions. In the past, MLPs have significantly improved patients’ lives by successfully advocating for continued access to care for chronically ill patients, the elimination of barriers to enrolling newborns in benefits, removing requirements that life-saving medications be filled by mail, requiring state Medicaid directors to reimburse for in-home ventilators for children, and working on bills that require lead inspections of federally assisted housing units.

By working together, physicians and lawyers can wield an incredible amount of power in improving patients’ quality of life. MLPs help patients to understand the legal rights that impact their health issues and how to exercise them to prevent the worst form happening. With the right automation tools that simplify intake and expand the reach of their services, MLPs can make an even greater impact on advancing #legalhealth for everyone.

At Documate, we’re a no-code document automation software company that lets lawyers build no-code apps to automate legal documents. We offer our software to legal aid organizations to build the expert systems they need to discover legal problems earlier and expand their work. Learn more about Documate by watching our videos here or reading our client case studies. Talk to us about what legal health means to you by tweeting @documatelaw or emailing hello@documate.org.