Voting as a Vital Sign_1000x667

Guest Post by Matthew Brown, MD

As a family doctor who works with the underserved in Rochester, New York, I have seen what happens when people do not have access to primary and preventive care. I have seen people admitted for diabetic complications because they couldn’t afford their insulin. I have seen people diagnosed with end-stage cancer because they couldn’t afford screenings to catch it when it could have been treated successfully. I have seen strokes, and heart attacks, and kidney failure, and a hundred other things that happened because people had to choose between medicine and food or between doctor’s visits and having a roof over their heads. Or, between what they needed in the long-term and what they needed right at that moment.


Medical care shouldn’t be a political issue

I didn’t get into this gig hoping I would get to lobby my congressman or attend rallies or research Supreme Court decisions. The reason I worked so hard in college, in medical school, in residency, and as an attending was to help people who needed help. And I hope most of the people whom I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving would see that, even if I failed, I was trying with all of my heart to do that.

But the truth is, if I limit myself to studying diseases and medicines and tests and screenings, I’m not really doing all I can. Because it’s not just about that any longer. Because, for all of the talk some years ago about “death panels”,

we are now seeing what the real death panel is: poverty, lack of power, lack of access to care.

Because if you’re rich, you can afford healthcare. And if you’re poor, you cannot. Full stop.

I ask my patients about non-medical things all the time. I ask them about work, and about seatbelts and bike helmets. I ask them about guns (and I would do so even if I worked in Florida, law be damned). I ask them about their families, and about their favorite sports teams. I ask them how their weekends went. But now, I’m asking them one more question:

Are you registered to vote?

If the answer is yes, then I am thanking them, and urging them to make sure they do vote. – in every election. If the answer is no, then I am handing them a voter registration form complete with postage, and asking them to fill it out, providing help if necessary. If they have a felony on their record, I am reviewing the New York state rules (able to vote once off parole). If they have immigration issues, I’m getting a social worker involved.

And this is where “The Ask” comes in, what I am asking of you:

If you are a primary care clinician who works with the underserved, start asking people if they are registered to vote, then help them to do it. It doesn’t take long, and it is so important. If you are a nurse or staff member in a primary care office, get your physicians to do this (they’ll listen to you; they need you more than you need them, believe me). If you don’t have any of those roles but you know someone who does, then for goodness sake share this message with them. If you know someone who knows someone, share this with them. Heck, just share it on the off chance.

And because everything needs a stupid hashtag these days, here’s this one: #VotingIsAVitalSign

It shouldn’t be political, but it is.

This was first published on Dr. Matthew Brown’s Facebook on 01/23/17 and then the Common Sense Family Doctor Blog on 01/24/17. It has been republished here with the author’s permission. I am sure if you ask, you can publish it on your site as well. It is powerful, it needs to be read—widely.


  1. Dr. Brown restores my faith in the medical community. After seeing all too many complaints from M.D.s concerning rules and requirements of insurers and so little sympathy for the patients about to lose insurance I was delighted to see Dr. Brown’s recognition that the health of his patients depends on large part on the social support of the larger community for persons who did not come with a privilege card. Diagnosis of the immediate problem will soon be aided by computer technology. The roles of the physician, nurse and other medical professionals will increasingly include empowering the patient to recognize that his her health depends on herself, the medical treatment recommended, and also on the community support. No one should have to choose between shelter food and medicine. She can have a voice through her vote in determining whether the community at large is supportive of her family and community. An elderly walker an donor for progressive values.

  2. This is NOT medicine this is blatant politics and should not be masquerading as a medical commentary. It is getting increasingly absurd that people are becoming so obsessed that they use any and every to express there politics. The political polarization and obsession has to be curtailed for the sake of his country.

    • Pray tell, what is wrong with helping people register to vote? We know that people do better healthwise when they feel like they have some control over their lives – that is what voting about. As far as I am concerned, this type of activity is part of addressing social determinants of health and not at all about politics or polarization.

    • Mr Hansley – author of article here. I can understand why you might feel this is “blatant politics.” But, although the motivation is admittedly partisan, the act itself is not. In registering patients to vote, I neither express nor endorse any specific candidate or political position, nor question my patients of theirs, and I would encourage anyone who is doing this to follow the same tactic. In fact, one of my favorite outcomes of this project has been identifying people whom I very much enjoy and yet hold polar opposite political positions from me (information which they volunteer; again, I do not probe), which has helped me personally to humanize the opposition. Please let me reassure you that I am not someone who uses “any and every to express there politics,” though I do believe that the more of us who are passionate about politics (especially those who have been traditionally denied a voice in politics), the better off our country will be. If you wish to discuss this further, please contact Dr. Lin for my personal contact information. Most Sincerely, Matthew Brown, MD, Rochester, NY.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.