A pediatrician’s take: Empowering patients’ healthcare outcomes through voting

Photo by Callie Richmond

The United States trails most developed countries in voter turnout. In particular, Dallas struggles with low voter turnout. A recent study showed Dallas, when compared to America’s 30 largest cities, had the lowest voter turnout for its 2015 mayoral contest. Only 1.7 percent of registered voters ages 18-34 voted, and nearly one-third of Dallas citizens live in “voting deserts,” or areas where turnout is half or less than the citywide average. Interestingly enough, low voter turnout is associated with poor self-rated health.

When I researched whether pediatric healthcare centers have tried registering patients to vote or informing patients’ parents about voting information, I found no studies that analyzed parents’ attitudes towards voting. I wanted to assess if community pediatric clinics are effective locations for voter registration, identify parents’ attitudes towards voting and interpret whether particular attitudes are associated with eligible parents who do register to vote.

I conducted a study in a community pediatric clinic in south Dallas with a primarily Medicaid dependent population. The survey asked whether parents were registered to vote, whether they thought their votes were important, whether their votes could affect their children’s healthcare and whether they knew where to find information regarding upcoming elections and polling locations. The last question offered the opportunity for non-registered eligible voters to be registered in clinic.

Here are the results:

  • 29 percent of participants were unregistered, eligible voters. Out of this population, 54 percent registered in clinic. Thus, 16 percent of all participants became registered voters as a result of the study.
  • 17.8 percent of participants who were already registered voters did not know where to find information on upcoming elections and polling locations.
  • There is a statistically significant correlation between registration status and parents’ belief that their vote is important and can affect their child’s healthcare.

This study, which will be submitted for publication this year, illustrates that pediatric community clinics are effective venues for voter registration and engagement. Many parents voiced frustration with federal elections and reported this as a reason for lack of local civic engagement, yet were willing to engage with a healthcare provider.

Thus, healthcare providers can use their role as trusted professionals and contribute to civic engagement by providing families with non-partisan information related to children’s healthcare. This is especially important because pediatric populations are particularly vulnerable to ever-changing healthcare policy. For example, pediatricians can inform parents about proposed legislation regarding Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and supplemental benefits programs such as the Women’s, Infants, and Children’s Nutrition Program (WIC) and Supplementation Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Pediatricians can highlight the importance of these programs by noting over 45 percent of Texan infants, toddlers and preschoolers benefit from Medicaid. The same is true for children with disabilities. These can be topics of conversation to include in a child’s well visit.

If parents perceive that voting can impact their children’s healthcare, they may be more likely to register, and furthermore, to vote. Maintaining voter engagement is also crucial; almost one in five registered voters in my study were unaware of how to find information on upcoming elections. Healthcare professionals in pediatric clinics can provide this information to families.

Overall, this study encourages us to further explore opportunities to include civic participation and voter registration in pediatric clinics. It also suggests that parent education on the intersection of voting and children’s health could strengthen healthcare policies on local, state and national levels that put children first.

Dr. Rija Siddiqui

Pediatric resident physician