Medical-Legal Clinic Selected to Present Study that Bridges Legal and Medical Gaps


The University of Miami's Medical-Legal Clinic, a joint venture between Miami Law's Health and Elder Law Clinic, the Miller School of Medicine, and the Miami VA Hospital was selected by the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare to present a case study at its 2011 International Conference on Communication in Healthcare (ICCH) in Chicago in October. At the conference they will share with medical professionals from all over the world their innovative case study, which amicably bridged legal and medical gaps.

The ICCH, which is hosted by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the American Association on Communication on Healthcare, and the European Association for Communication in Healthcare, is the largest gathering of researchers, educators and administrators from around the world focusing on improving communication in healthcare.

Third-year law students, Vaishali Desai and Ilyas Sayeg, drafted the case abstract to be presented along with Clinic supervisors Dr. Panagiota Caralis from the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine along with JoNel Newman and Melissa Swain from Miami Law on behalf of an interdisciplinary team of doctors, psychologists, nurses, social workers, speech therapists, and Miami Law.

The case study features the Medical-Legal Clinic's holistic approach in treating and communicating with one of its patient-clients. The patient, a psychologically fragile veteran in her 50s, was recovering from a recent stroke, which had resulted in aphasia – a communicative disorder affecting both reception and expression.

When clinical workers met the patient, she was unable to walk, talk, or write as a result of the stroke and her aphasia. She did not have any advance directives prepared, and her family urgently needed legal authority to act on her behalf to take care of her financial responsibilities. The Medical-Legal Clinic's challenge was to make sure that the patient was competent to understand and execute advance directives. They were tasked with developing a method of communication with the patient as well as specially designed legal forms.

In this case, the Medical-Legal Clinic, working with social workers and speech therapists, was able to create a simplified power of attorney that the patient could understand and met her legal needs. Through the focused efforts of the entire interdisciplinary team, the Medical-Legal Clinic incorporated customized tools into the patient's daily speech rehabilitation program to help the patient comprehend the document.