Saturday, January 14, 2012

medical-legal partnerships

I'm been so excited about the ideas of medical-legal partnerships (MLP) ever since I first heard of the concept several years ago. From a selfish (at least professionally) perspective, I am thrilled and hopeful to hear of ANY situation in which attorneys and physicians/health caregivers work together to help others.

As IHI said on its website re IHI's program on MLPs, "Let’s face it. If someone mentions the words “medical” and “legal” in the same sentence, the next thing we imagine we’ll hear about is a lawsuit." Instead, MLPs are team approaches to problem-solving on behalf of patients; the MLP concept is often referred to as "preventive law", which it clearly is.

In the past, physicians might treat the same indigent children-patients repeatedly for illnesses/diseases such bronchitis, pneumonia or asthma without realizing the cause could be treated as well. The cause might be peeling lead paint, no heat, mold, rodents, or dampness. Lawyers could treat the cause: they could make a phone call to the landlord, building owner, or the electric company and, hopefully, solve the problem. Many other issues that appear in the context of people's health are solvable in the legal system.

IHI noted that, instead of a lawsuit, we could: "Picture this instead: empowered, proactive social workers, collaborating with health care providers, lawyers, and legal experts, to ensure that the health of indigent patients isn’t undermined by unsafe housing, lack of food, or lack of access to benefits an entitlements."

I, along with so many others, try to bring attorneys and physicians into the same room to talk about working together, to set aside our assumptions and judgements and look at our common goals. Although my focus has been on non adversarial responses to medical error/adverse medical event situations, medical-legal partnerships are equally worthy, helpful, hopeful, and healing for the professionals, the patients, and our communities. These attorney-physician exchanges, this teamwork, is shifting the culture away from "there must be a lawsuit coming" to "there must be a common goal coming"!!

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