Frequently Asked Questions about Advocacy Health Alliances

What is an Advocacy Health Alliance (AHA)?

Advocacy-Health Alliances is a working title given by some legal practitioners in Australia to Medical Legal Partnerships. Advocacy-Health Alliances is preferred by some because it better communicates that health and advocacy services both include but extend beyond the more narrowly defined medical and legal frameworks and professions.

What are Medical Legal Partnerships (MLPs)?

According to the recent text Poverty, Health and Law: Readings and Cases for Medical Legal Partnership, MLP is a:

“…healthcare delivery model that integrates legal assistance as a vital component of healthcare. It is built on the understanding of three key factors: (1) the social, economic and political context in which people live as a fundamental impact on health; (2) these social determinants of health often manifest in the form of legal needs; and (3) attorneys have the special tools and skills to address these needs. MLP brings legal and healthcare teams together to provide high quality, comprehensive care and services to patients who need it most.”

Follow the link for an excellent Overview of MLPs produced by the National Center for MLP.

There are three core activities of MLP’s:

1. Legal assistance in the health care setting, where legal practitioners work in conjunction with health practitioners in the healthcare team to address legal issues that are a barrier to the patient’s health. For example, working with an asthma patient, who’s condition is aggravated by the mould in their current public housing apartment, to be moved to more appropriate public housing or to have the mould situation addressed.

2. Transforming of health and legal institutions and practices. For example, reviewing hospital policy and procedure for end of life decision making processes that contribute to a patient’s sense of empowerment and well-being.

3. Broader policy change through public health initiatives. For example tobacco control laws.

I’ve heard of Medico-legal, is Medical Legal Partnership the same?

The term medico-legal or medicolegal usually pertains to the legal aspects of the practice of medicine (eg. medical negligence / malpractice, obtaining consent to treatment or end of life decisions). Medical-Legal Partnership refers to the practice of law in the context of health treatment to achieve improved health or social outcomes for a client.

Is Medical Legal Partnership about representing patients to sue doctors / health service providers?

No, it’s about using the law to achieve improved health and social outcomes in the course of providing health services. Often there are partnership agreements in place the reassure medical/health partners of this focus.

Where did MLPs start?

According to the National Centre for Medical Legal Partnership, Boston Medical Center Chief of Pediatrics Dr. Barry Zuckerman “…was frustrated sending sick children home to apartments with mold and without heat, only to see them return again and again not having responded to medical treatments.  Dr. Zuckerman recognized that a lawyer could help patients navigate the complex legal systems that hold solutions to many social determinants of health—income supports for food insecure families, utility shut-off protection during cold winter months, and mold removal from the home of asthmatic children. 

In 1993, the Medical Legal Partnership for Children (MLPC) was founded with a single attorney, Joshua Greenberg, to serve patient-families at Boston Medical Center. Over the last fifteen years, the program has expanded to eight lawyers and three paralegals serving Boston Medical Center and six affiliated community health centres.”2

Are AHAs different from MLPs?

With some notable exceptions, it’s early days for AHAs in Australia. While MLPs provide a wonderful source of inspiration for what could evolve in Australia, we’ll have to just wait and see.

I am involved in an MLP / AHA in Australia. How can I let you know about it? 

There are many many examples of multidisciplinary collaboration between health and advocacy workers and services in Australia. But, we just don’t know how many and where they are. You can let us know about the great work you are doing by participating in this simple online survey or by contacting us. Log your AHA We look forward to hearing from you!

1.p 74 Tyler, Elizabeth Tobin et al (2011) Carolina Academic Press, North Carolina.

2. National Center for Medical Legal Partnership, History, accessed 19 March 2012.

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