How legal problems are conceptualized and measured in healthcare settings: a systematic review
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Legal problems encompass issues requiring resolution through the justice system. This social risk factor creates barriers in accessing services and increases risk of poor health outcomes. A systematic review of the peer-reviewed English-language health literature following the PRISMA guidelines sought to answer the question, how has the concept of patients’ “legal problems” been operationalized in healthcare settings? Eligible articles reported the measurement or screening of individuals for legal problems in a United States healthcare or clinical setting. We abstracted the prevalence of legal problems, characteristics of the sampled population, and which concepts were included. 58 studies reported a total of 82 different measurements of legal problems. 56.8% of measures reflected a single concept (e.g., incarcerated only). The rest of the measures reflected two or more concepts within a single reported measure (e.g., incarcerations and arrests). Among all measures, the concept of incarceration or being imprisoned appeared the most frequently (57%). The mean of the reported legal problems was 26%. The literature indicates that legal concepts, however operationalized, are very common among patients. The variation in measurement definitions and approaches indicates the potential difficulties for organizations seeking to address these challenges.