Collaborative Diagnosis: Interdisciplinary Problem-solving between Physicians and Lawyers

By Robert Pettignano, Lisa Radtke Bliss and Sylvia B. Caley.

Published by The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Patient and client-centered practice and accurate problem diagnosis require that we understand the context within which the patient/clients’ problem originated. Effective problem solving depends upon context-specific solutions. This article describes the interaction of a medical clinician/educator and two legal clinicians/educators who work and teach together as part of an interdisciplinary community collaboration. We demonstrate how a pediatric hospital and two medical schools that treat acutely and chronically ill children collaborate with a legal services clinic based in a law school to provide interdisciplinary clinical education for students and engage in interdisciplinary problem solving for the benefit of patients and clients. Pediatric residents and medical students partner with law students, as well as treating physicians to evaluate and interpret case facts and develop strategies for addressing patient/client problems. A case study demonstrates the opportunities for interdisciplinary problem solving among the collaborators and the benefits of viewing patient/client issues through the lens of other disciplines. The article describes how the medical and legal professions each view a particular case scenario, and how professionals can work together to diagnose and treat a problem, thereby addressing the social determinants of health and wellness that affect the patient/client. A physician can provide better care when he/she understands the legal issues faced by the parent and how those issues can impact the family’s ability to access health care or to follow a care plan. Likewise, a lawyer representing a parent with a sick child can be a better advocate when he/she understands the patient’s medical diagnoses and needs.

Keywords: Interdisciplinary, Education, Medical-legal Partnership, Diagnosis, Collaboration, Social Determinants, Lawyers, Pediatrics

The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp.37-44. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 200.054KB).

Dr. Robert Pettignano

Medical Director - Campus Operations, Medical Champion HeLP, Administration, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia

Dr. Pettignano graduated from Iona College in New York with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology then taught high school biology for two years before attending and graduating from medical school at Ross University, Dominica, West Indies. Dr. Pettignano completed his pediatric residency at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey and his pediatric critical care fellowship at Egleston Children’s Hospital at Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Pettignano has practiced in both the private and academic sector. During his time as an intensivist at Egleston Children’s Hospital he was the Director of the Pediatric and Adult section of the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Program and Medical Director of the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Dr. Pettignano has been recognized by the pediatric residents from both Emory University and Orlando Regional Healthcare “Teacher of the Year”. In 2003 because of an interest in the business of medicine and in order to prepare hiself for a future in medical administration he completed a Masters in Business Administration at Kennesaw State University. Presently he is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics, attending intensivist/hospitalist, HeLP Medical Champion and Medical Director–Campus Operations at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding.

Prof. Lisa Radtke Bliss

Co-Director of the HeLP Legal Services Clinic, College of Law, Georgia State University, College of Law, Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia

Lisa Radtke Bliss is Associate Clinical Professor at Georgia State University College of Law and Co-Director of the Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Legal Services Clinic. The HeLP Clinic provides a collaborative, interdisciplinary environment in which law students learn essential lawyering skills while serving the needs of low-income clients in the context of a medical-legal partnership. The clinic serves the legal needs of low income families who have children who are receiving treatment at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Collaborative learners in the clinic include law students, medical students, pediatric residents, MSW and MPH students. Professor Bliss holds an appointment as Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Morehouse School of Medicine. She supervises medical students from Morehouse who take an elective entitled “Law and Medicine,” and co-teaches with Morehouse faculty in the Fundamentals of Medicine course.

Sylvia B. Caley

Director Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Co-Director, HeLP Legal Services Clinic, College of Law, Georgia State University, College of Law, Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia

Sylvia Caley, JD, MBA, RN is the director of the Health Law Partnership (HeLP), an interdisciplinary community collaboration among Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, and Georgia State University’s College of Law. She is an associate clinical professor teaching law students and other professional graduate students enrolled in the HeLP Legal Services Clinic. She also teaches Health Legislation and Advocacy, a year-long course during which law students work with community partners to address health-related legislative and regulatory issues affecting the community. She is a member of the Ethics Committees at Grady Health System and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Her research interests focus on the intersection of health and poverty. Specifically she is interested in examining the effect of health disparities on the lives of low-income, chronically ill, and disabled children. She also uses legislative and regulatory mechanisms to address systemic issues affecting child welfare.