Practice Support Update Blog

Medical-Legal Partnership: Addressing Social Determinants of Health through Team-Based Care

Apr 6, 2021 7:00:00 AM / by NW AHEC

The Northwest AHEC Practice Support Team is committed to promote understanding and improve the orientation of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) for North Carolinians. In order to support these goals, we will share a publication on SDOH each month on our Practice Support Blog. 

SDOH (1)-1Most of us have heard a lawyer joke or two and they are never flattering to the profession. Despite playing an important role in society, attorneys are often mistrusted by the public. A national poll (Gallup 2020) conducted in December 2020, on honesty and ethics and professions, found lawyers were perceived as having very high ethical standards by just 3 percent of respondents, putting them slightly ahead of Members of Congress and car salespeople. Whether the referral involves a civil or criminal issue, it is common to feel angst when learning an attorney must be involved in their affairs. 

Knowing the anxiety patients feel when seeking assistance with medical issues, the Northwest AHEC Practice Support Team were excited to learn of a specialty within the legal profession.  Medical-legal partnerships are a mystery to most patients.  This article shows how the partnership between the medical and legal profession has forged a path which effectively reduces barriers presented by social determinants of health when seeking care. The medical profession is continuing to identify the many ways that the legal profession can help assist and support patients that are low-income and have chronic and sometimes terminal ailments. 

The article highlights a few success stories seen in the medical-legal partnership founded by Pisgah Legal Services (PLS) and Mountain Area Health Education Center, located in the western part of North Carolina. These organizations have united and found a way to ensure that patients’ medical needs as well as their quality of living can be maintained by placing an attorney on site to speak with them before or after their appointment with their physician. 

Finally, the article explains the many ways that legal aid attorneys benefit both medical practitioners, as well as patients by giving legal advice on a variety of topics. The authors show that when the two professions work together, the benefits for the patients are impressive and once legal-medical partnerships are forged they continue to improve patient care into the future. 


Medical-Legal Partnership in Western North Carolina: Addressing Social Determinants of Health through Team-Based Care. Salter AS, Anderson GT, Gettinger J & Stigleman S. (2018). North Carolina Medical Journal, 79, 259-260. doi:10.18043/ncm.79.4.259, 10.18043/ncm.79.4.259. 

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Tags: Social Determinants of Health


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