“So much of what we do in the Emergency Department is true medical emergency care, but a large portion of what we also see are the faces of failed public policy,” says Alister Martin, MD, MPP, of the MGH Emergency Department. “These are the folks who come to us with problems that have their roots in upstream issues like homelessness, addiction, food insecurity and lack of access to mental health care in this country. We can either complain and wring our hands, or we can try – as physicians, as physician assistants and as nurses – to get involved in some small way and make the system better and be part of the solution.”
Dr. Martin’s VotER initiative provides patients, visitors and staff with the opportunity to register to vote or check to see if they are registered to vote while at the MGH. Created in coordination with a team from Harvard Kennedy School, the tech nonprofit Turbovote and the behavioral sciences firm ideas42, VotER features two iPad-based kiosks in the emergency department’s registration area and in a non-acute waiting room.
This optional, non-partisan program does not impact or interrupt clinical care. “VotER is aimed at empowering our patient population to register to vote,” Martin says. “What we’ve seen is a demographic overlap for those who are not registered to vote in this country and those who use EDs nationwide for what we call low-acuity complaints or nonemergent complaints. The top three populations in both categories are those who are low-income, people of color and young Americans. There is an incredible opportunity to offer voter registration to these groups while they are at the hospital. The bottom line is we want to make it easier for people to register to vote. It takes 90 seconds with the VotER platform. And, it’s so important.”