Written by: Seema Patel, MD, Kyra Reed, MD, and Alex Ulintz, MD
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching the animated movie “Robots” with your kids (or let’s face it, by yourself, as a tired resident looking for a mental break), you may recall the wise words of master-of-invention Bigweld: “See a need, fill a need.” While the animated universe in which the movie takes place is much different than the real world we operate in as emergency medicine physicians, I think Bigweld’s quote identifies one reason many of us chose this specialty—to address the needs of the patient in front of us, in real time. But as one delves more deeply into the needs of our patients, we often find there are many needs that are too large for one physician, care team or even emergency department to handle. Furthermore, many of these patients with systemic barriers to health are often those most disenfranchised from the rest of the health care system.
While working at the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency, Dr. Alister Martin saw this time and time again. Innovating a solution that capitalizes on the emergency department as the nexus of patient care and social determinants of health, he started the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization VotER. VotER seeks to create “a future where those most hurt by the healthcare system are empowered to fix it by inviting their voices into the democratic process.” The idea is simple yet profound—provide physicians with a visible lanyard asking if patients are “ready to vote?” and provide them with a QR code that when scanned by an interested patient, takes them to their state’s voter registration page. After initial success locally, the program has spread through more than 22,000 providers across the country, of which IU School of Medicine Emergency Medicine residents are among the newest.
VotER at IU
Initially spearheaded by the Advocacy Track in Emergency Medicine, the concept of VotER registration gained traction within the IU health care system and was approved by IU Health for use this year in emergency departments at IU Health Methodist Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Interested faculty and residents completed a video training session on lanyard use and learned not only how to approach patients who initiate a conversation about voter registration in a neutral and nonpartisan manner, but also how to instruct patients on using the QR code to provide them with a means to register to vote. In doing so, we not only provide our patients with greater access to the democratic process, but also allow many high-risk patients to request mail-in ballots so they may participate in a safe and healthy election process.
First on display in our emergency departments in early September, the lanyards continued to be worn through the final day of voter registration in Indiana (October 5). Based on the data collected by VotER, we were able to help 85 of our patients register to vote. Although the deadline for voter registration has passed, we will continue to encourage our patients and colleagues to get out and vote! Early voting is now open in Indianapolis, and we hope everyone will exercise their right to vote.
In addition to advocating for all of our patients through the VotER initiative, the Advocacy Track has other projects in the works, including our annual IU Emergency Medicine Angel Tree, the development of Learning Gardens in conjunction with a local school district and our annual Helmet Fair. If you’re interested in any of these projects, please feel free to reach out. We’d love to have your help!