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News & Info

Adding Lawyers to the Health Equity Toolbox

“Law is a foundational tool for disease prevention and health promotion,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. Often, when we think of doctors and lawyers in the same room, we picture a courtroom or some adversarial setting, like a deposition. But the truth is that health care providers and lawyers can work together in a variety of settings to improve the social and physical environments of their patient-clients. In the Health Justice Certificate program through University of Providence, students will learn that legislation, regulation, and non-litigation-based advocacy can lead to healthier communities.

The program discusses individual approaches to advocacy, such as patient-client education and advocacy with government agencies. Many studies have confirmed that individual advocacy can improve the health of those who are represented by legal counsel. The opportunity to foster a close attorney-client relationship ensures that the attorney fully understands the patient-client’s story. In turn, this allows the attorney to protect patient-client autonomy.

The broader impact of individual advocacy can be felt by the effects on the healthcare community for decades after and individual advocacy scenario. For example, students will read about the case of Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California (17 Cal. 3d 425 (1976)). This was a landmark “failure to warn case.” Based on the facts of the case, the court found the mental health professional liable for failing to warn a woman that one of his patients intended to harm her. The decision in this case created a duty to warn that has changed the behavior of mental health providers across the country.

Students will also learn about systemic approaches to advocacy by focusing on key insights learned from social epidemiology; how the patient-client’s social environment can trigger biologic responses. Through collaboration between medical and legal teams, this program demonstrates how to confront complex problems and improve the quality of life for vulnerable populations.

For more information about the Health Justice Certificate program at University of Providence please contact: