As a second year resident, I’m still learning to hone my sick-versus-not-sick doorway exam. Over the past week I’ve pushed myself one step further, asking ‘will this patient still be admitted by election day?’
The one and only blessing of ED boarding has been my opportunity to round on admitted patients and ask if they’re interested in information about voting while hospitalized. Plenty say yes, desperate for something to do while they wait for their room upstairs. Too many express interest but aren’t registered to vote (which is another issue entirely). Some seem too overwhelmed by the conditions warranting their admission to even think about anything else. I can’t blame them.
This latter group is why I created PatientVoting.com in the first place. If I – a healthy, internet-savvy millennial on a laptop with 20 internet tabs open on a state government website – can’t figure out how hospitalized patients vote, how can we expect a tachypneic patient on a cell phone to find it? In some states (looking at you, Texas) it’s easier to find information about voting from outer space than voting from the hospital.
PatientVoting.com is intended to be a more easily-navigable website that houses non-partisan voting information for patients. Many states take advantage of an emergency absentee ballot for those admitted in the limbo between the end of early voting but before Election Day. The state-specific pages not only link to board of elections websites, contact info, and forms, but also have downloadable step-by-step instructions and flyers for your emergency department or inpatient floors.
PatientVoting.com is as much for physicians and other health care workers as it is for patients. I used to be an even bigger barrier to patient voting than cumbersome government websites because I didn’t know it was a possibility. By now, I’ve grown accustomed to the various expressions of disappointment when patients are told they are going to be admitted. “I can’t be admitted, what about my cat/vacation/demented family member/birthday?” But during the 2016 elections, I had no response to patients that surprised me with “I can’t be admitted, how am I going to vote?” Time wasn’t the limiting factor. Nor was access. We know from the EM literature that over 70% of our homeless population owns cell phones. I was.
We as emergency medicine physicians already pride ourselves on equity in health care and taking care of anyone, anytime, anywhere. The demographic of frequently hospitalized patients may have different voting interests than the healthy population. Informing them of their right to vote is, to me, an extension of justice in health care.
In the time between this election and the next, I hope to identify states where there could be improvement in the processes for patient voting and form a way for physicians in those states to advocate for change on behalf of their patients. Our hospitalized patients deserve both equal medical treatment AND equal opportunity to vote: anyone, anytime, anywhere.