Whether physicians or advanced practice practitioners, we are the backbone of our nation’s network of acute care facilities, and on a daily basis, we see just about everything. We have valuable insight into how to improve our nation’s health care system, especially now, as our nation continues to battle COVID-19.
Our role, squarely on the front lines during this pandemic, has given us an important perspective that needs to be heard. We spend our days managing patients with complexity, coordinating with specialists and subspecialists, and advocating – at local, state, and national levels – so that our patients can more easily transition to their lives out of the hospital.
Our current polarized political climate makes it seem that individual voices will not make a difference. It is easy to feel frustrated and powerless. However, those in our specialty are actually in a perfect position to have an educated and influential say in how we move forward, not only about the immediate health crises, but also regarding future health care issues. That voice begins with voting.
Historically, physicians have had surprisingly low rates of voting. For example, a 2007 study found significantly lower rates of voting among physicians, compared with the general public.1 While physician voter turnout may have improved in the past decade, given the substantial changes in health care and the increasing amount of physician engagement in the public sphere, our participation should be greater still. Elected officials listen to, and follow up with, constituents who make their voices heard. Each of us can ensure that the health care policy priorities of our fast-growing specialty are addressed by mobilizing to the voting booth.
Candidates we elect shape our health care system for the future, directly impacting us and our patients. Cost, coverage, access to health care, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services inpatient fee schedules, the ongoing pandemic response, surprise billing, use of telehealth, observation status, and the three-midnight rule are just a few of the issues most important to hospital medicine.
Therefore, we, the SHM Public Policy Committee, urge all of our colleagues, regardless of political sway, to make your voice heard this and every election henceforth. The first step is to register to vote, if you have not done so already.2 Next, exercise that privilege. Given the pandemic, this is not as simple a process as it has been in the past. Take the time to plan your approach to early voting, mail-in voting, or election day voting. Check your County Supervisor of Elections’ website for further information, including how to register, view candidate profiles, check your precinct, and request a mail-in ballot.
In addition to casting your vote, we encourage you to share your opinions and engage in dialogue about health care issues. Clinical fact can dispel rumor and misinformation, and daily experiences can personalize our patients’ health care stories and the impact laws and rules have on our ability to practice. We are part of a trusted profession and have a unique perspective; others need and want to hear it. They can only do that if we are part of the process. Arming yourself with information and voting are the first steps on the path of advocacy. Interpersonal advocacy can also be done on social media. For example, SHM has an active grassroots advocacy network on Twitter. Tag @SHMadvocacy in your tweets to share your thoughts with their network.
Finally, as advocates for our patients in health care, we can also help ensure their safety during this election, in particular regarding COVID-19. Some patients may not wish to engage us in politics, and we must respect their decision. Others may seek our counsel and we should provide it in an unbiased fashion. We can ask our patients if they have considered a safe voting plan, help patients review the alternatives to voting in person if desired, and inform those who wish to physically cast a vote on Election Day of how to mitigate the risk of in-person voting.
Every election is important and health care is front and center for a multitude of reasons. We who practice hospital medicine are integral to our communities and need to be more politically involved. This is our chance to share our voice through our vote, not just this year, but in future elections as well.
Ann Sheehy, MD, SFHM, is division chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and chair of the SHM Public Policy Committee. Other members of the SHM PPC include Marta Almli, MD; John Biebelhausen, MD; Robert Burke, MD, MS, FHM; George Cheely, MD; Hyung (Harry) Cho, MD, SFHM; Jennifer Cowart, MD, FHM; Suparna Dutta, MD, MS, MPH; Bradley Flansbaum, DO, MPH, MHM; Alain Folefack, MD; Rick Hilger MD SFHM; Melinda Johnson, MD; Sevan Karadolian, MD; Joshua D. Lenchus, DO, FACP, SFHM; Steve Phillipson, MD; Dahlia Rizk, DO; Kendall Rogers, MD, SFHM; Brett Stauffer, MD, MHS; Amit Vashist, MD, SFHM; Robert Zipper, MD, SFHM.
1. Grande D et al. Do doctors vote? J Gen Int Med. 2007 May;22(5):585-9.
2. How to register to vote, confirm or change your registration and get a voter registration card. https://www.usa.gov/voter-registration/.