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Health Law Research

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This guide provides a basic overview of health law and outlines helpful research strategies.  While health law is becoming a more distinct field in its own right, it is generally associated with several other areas both within and related to the legal field, including: 

Health care equipment

  • Bioethics
  • Health Care Policy
  • Health Care Reform
  • Medical Device Law & Industry
  • Medical Malpractice
  • Medicare/Medicaid
  • Pharmaceutical Law & Industry
  • Public Health

This guide will highlight some of the key resources in these areas both secondary (articles, treatises, practice materials) and primary (statutes, regulations, cases), as well as keeping up with current awareness.

If you have any questions or content suggestions or if you would like to set up an individual consult, please contact Claire DeMarco.

This guide follows the suggested structure of general legal research.  For an overview, visit this legal research strategy guide.

Additional Resources

The Harvard Law School Library has several treatises that provide a broad overview of Health Law.  There are also many helpful online research guides created by law librarians across the country. Researchers unfamiliar with the subject should consult these treatises and guides for an introduction.

Health law also touches on many different research areas.  Here are some Harvard Research Guides that may have content related to health law:

Secondary Sources

Using Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are a great place to begin your research. Although the primary sources of law--case law, statutes, and regulations--establish the law on a given topic, it is often difficult to quickly locate answers in them. Secondary sources often explain legal principles more thoroughly than a single case or statute, so using them can help you save time. Secondary sources also help you avoid unnecessary research, since you are tapping into work that someone else has already done on an issue.

Legal texts

Secondary sources include:

  • Law journals
  • Legal encyclopedias
  • American Law Reports (ALR)
  • Treatises

 

Secondary sources are particularly useful for:

  • Learning the basics of a particular area of law
  • Understanding key terms of art in an area
  • Identifying essential cases and statutes

For an overview on how to use secondary sources, visit this section of the legal research strategy guide.

Legal and Medical Journals

You can search the library catalog, Hollis+, for articles and texts together in one search frame.  In the alternative, Google Scholar is a good place to start.  In addition, many of the major databases used for primary law research can also be used for secondary source research, such as HeinOnline,Lexis, and Westlaw.  Be sure to change search settings in advance or filter the results after constructing your search.

This list highlights the major health law journals across the US.

Researchers may also consider sources from the biomedical and health science journal literature.

ALR & Encyclopedias

American Law Reports (frequently abbreviated and referred to as ALR) contains in-depth articles on narrow topics of the law. ALR in print is located in the Langdell Reading Room beginning at KF 132.  The ALR Index is located at KF 132.2.I53.

Note: Although there is no specific annotation topic for "Health Law" under ALR on Westlaw, you can use the search box at the top of the page to search for specific articles.

Legal encyclopedias contain brief, broad summaries of legal topics, providing introductions to legal topics and explaining relevant terms of art. Here are entries from the two major national encyclopedias regarding health law.  State encyclopedias can also be found on Westlaw and Lexis.

Health Law Treatises

There are many health law treatises within our collection.  Again, users can search in Hollis+ or Google Books or even search within Lexis or Westlaw for the most up-to-date legal treatises. Here are a few titles of note in the field:

Many treatises are also available online through the major legal databases.  Here are links to major health law treatises on Westlaw and Lexis:

Primary Sources

Using Primary Sources

Bloomberg, Lexis, and Westlaw provide access to primary legal sources (as well as secondary sources in some cases).  Primary legal sources include:

  • Case law (decisions from state and federal courts),
  • Legislation (as passed by state legislatures and the U.S. Congress), and
  • Regulations (from both state and federal agencies).

Browsing by topic or practice area can help you can find cases, statutes, regulations, secondary sources and the latest information from the field all in one place.  You can search for specific terms or use the filers to refine your results. 

For an overview of how to use primary sources in legal research, visit this section of the legal research strategy guide.

Click on the images below to be taken directly to the Health Law practice areas in these three commercial databases (login credentials required). 

If you do not have login credentials, note: Bloomberg and Westlaw terminals are available at the Law School Library for all Harvard patrons.

Bloomberg Law Health Practice Center

Lexis Healthcare Practice Center

Westlaw Practitioner Insights for Health

Case Law

Use these links to access health law cases from the major legal databases - login credentials required.

There are several subject-specific case reporters that may be of interest to health law researchers.  Keep in mind that these reporters may or may not be considered authoritative based on the context of your research.  They do, however, contain cases that may not have been reported in Federal and State reporters that are included in the major legal research databases.  For this reason, they should not be overlooked!

Statutes & Legislation

Federal and state statutes related to health law may be difficult to identify because they are scattered across the codes.  Remember that an annotated code such as the USCA is a researcher's goldmine.  The annotations will include cases, other code sections, and related regulations.  State and Federal Annotated Codes are available in both Lexis and Westlaw, as well as in print at the rear of the Law School Library Reference Room.

When considering the impact of Federal and State statutes related to health law, it may be helpful to consider legislative intent, earlier versions of the law, or supporting testimony/material.  For that type of research, it is best to consult a published legislative history (if available) or search congressional publications.  

In comparing state laws, another great research tool is a 50 state survey. These surveys related to health law can save a lot of time and research effort:

Regulatory & Administrative Law

Federal and State regulations make up a substantial portion of what we consider to be primary sources in health law research.  While statutes may enable change in health policy (such as the Affordable Care Act) and create specific health programs (such as Medicare and Medicaid), the way in which those policies and programs are administered relies primarily on Federal and State regulations.  

If you are unfamiliar with how to conduct regulatory research, please visit the administrative law guides linked on the right.  Here are some links to specific agency regulations and resources in Lexis and Westlaw that can aid in conducting research within health law regulations:

In addition to promulgating regulations, agencies are also empowered (in many cases) to adjudicate challenges to regulatory policy.  These agency decisions are not included in the general body of case law, and can be accessed only through the agencies themselves or through specific reporters that collect such information.  Here are links to administrative decisions and reporters:

Finding and understanding regulations is a difficult research undertaking. Visit these additional guides where you can find more about administrative law research.

Practice Materials

Using Practice Materials

Some of the most helpful resources in the field of health law are actually written by practitioners in the field.  Although they are similar to many treatises, they are directed at lawyers in practice and can contain checklists and forms not available in a traditional treatise.  

In many cases they are presented as part of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses or collected from papers at annual conferences.  There are also a number of guides published by state and national bar associations. Here are some helpful practice materials related to health law:

News Sources

Keeping up-to-date with new developments in the field of health law will serve to enhance any research project.  Consulting recent headlines in the field may also help researchers still looking for a paper topic to refine the scope of their research in health law.  Use these links to find news sources related to health law:

The Health Law Prof Blog keeps up to date on a variety of issues related to health law.  Here are the most recent headlines:

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