A healthy democracy depends on active and engaged citizens. Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Medicine residents Sejal Hathi, MD, MBA, Radhika Jain, MD, and Jake Fox, MD, MPH, discuss their VoteRx program, which promotes safe voting practices and highlights how voting can greatly impact the practice of health care, health outcomes and our patient community. “By normalizing and fostering a culture of civic engagement in the health professions, we aim to enrich our practice of medicine and the health and opportunities of our patients,” says Hathi.
How does voting impact health outcomes?
Elected officials at the local, state and federal levels make many decisions every day that directly impact how health care is delivered, paid for and measured. Nationally more than 1 in 7 adults are now uninsured, the United States COVID-19 death toll is approaching 200,000 and Black Americans still die at three times the rate of whites. These disparities cannot be addressed in an exam room alone; they are the direct product of policy. To vote is to take the first step toward shaping these policies—and by extension, designing the health system that we want. Research also affirms that the communities that vote are also those that enjoy the best health outcomes.
Why are health care workers and the health care setting an important place to encourage voting and voter registration?
The very people most affected by health care policies—including people of color, the impoverished and those with complex medical conditions—are also frequently the most disenfranchised and least likely to vote.
Unfortunately, health providers are also—of any professional class—the least likely to vote. As health providers to these patients, we have an opportunity to lift our patients’ voices by casting our own votes and by engaging them about how to vote safely. Advocating for our patients and health systems requires a cultural shift toward more civic engagement by health care workers.
What is Mass General doing to encourage more civic engagement?
We’re proud to join health providers across the hospital who are working to facilitate voter registration and safe voting for patients. Our project, VoteRx, empowers providers to vote and equips them to lead conversations with their patients about voting safely during this pandemic.
At the core of our efforts is a digital registration platform, which we partnered with TurboVote to deploy. At voterx.turbovote.org, visitors can quickly and easily check their registration status, register to vote and sign up for election reminders.
To support providers in discussing safe voting with their patients, we’ve further developed an array of resources and materials that can be tailored to diverse health care settings. We’ve designed a badge backer for staff ID badges with a QR code (digital barcode) that links to our platform, and created patient instruction templates that are available in Epic, our electronic medical record system, so providers can include information in a patient’s visit notes. To ensure that conversations are non-judgmental and non-partisan, we have partnered with the organization RxVote to disseminate sample language, FAQs and conversational scripts that can be used to navigate patient questions. And we have designed multilingual posters to display in our hospital and outpatient clinic sites with the QR code and information about how to register to vote.
How are you encouraging other Mass General staff to help?
In addition to making their own voting plan, and planning ahead to submit a mail-in ballot or vote early in person, staff can encourage their family and friends to make voting plans, learn about candidates and volunteer as poll workers. Fostering a healthy democracy—and the civic health of our community—will require every one of us to vote this November, and to support our colleagues and our patients in making their voice heard. Don’t be afraid to initiate these conversations with others and spread the word!
In Massachusetts, residents should register to vote or submit a vote-by-mail application by October 20. Early voting runs from October 17-30 and Election Day is November 3.