Episode 210 : Kelly Wong On Patient Voting

Featured Guest: Kelly Wong

  • Oct 23, 2020

“The goal is to help patients who are unexpectedly hospitalized on Election Day vote from their hospital bed”

Dr. Kelly Wong is an Emergency Medicine doctor in her 4th year of residency at Brown University and she is the Founder of Patient Voting. Her incredible, nonpartisan project is helping us all better understand how to help hospitalized patients cast their vote, which is more important than ever as Covid surges across the country. Click here to find information on patient voting for your state!

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Sponsor: Elevate your expertise with Creighton University’s Healthcare Executive Educational programming. Learn more about Creighton’s Executive MBA and Executive Fellowship programs at www.creighton.edu/CHEE.

Key Learnings

1. What is Patient Voting?

2. Where Dr. Wong first learned of the concept of patient voting from the hospital

3. How Covid19 has driven increased interest in Patient Voting

4. The ways it is not too late to engage prior to the 2020 elections

5. Common questions about patient voting from healthcare providers and patients

6.  Where has there been resistance to Patient Voting?

7. How the new generations in medicine are driving this work

8. The future of Patient Voting


Twitter @kellywongmd, @patientvoting

Patient Voting website

State guidelines for patient voting


Mark Shapiro (00:00):

Welcome back to Explore The Space Podcast. I’m your host Mark Shapiro. Let’s start off with a quick, thank you to Laurie Baedke and Creighton University for sponsoring this episode. Creighton University believes in equipping physicians for success in the exam room, the operating room and the boardroom. If you want to increase your business acumen, deepen your leadership knowledge and earn your seat at the table. Creighton’s health care executive education is for you. Specifically tailored to busy physicians our hybrid programs blend the richness of on-campus residencies with the flexibility of online learning. Earn a Creighton University executive MBA degree in 18 months or complete the non-degree executive fellowship in six months, visit www.creighton.edu/CHEE to learn more. My guest in this episode of Explore The Space Podcast is Dr. Kelly Wong. Dr. Wong is an emergency medicine physician she’s in her fourth year of her residency at Brown University, and she is the founder of Patient Voting.

Mark Shapiro (00:59):

This is part of our run-up to the 2020 general election. And this project that Dr. Wong has created is really remarkable. It is designed to facilitate people who are hospitalized on election day being able to vote. Every state has guidelines for this. Every state has rules for this and a process by which it can happen. This is something I never knew about. I’ve been a practicing physician for awhile. I have never heard of this. And I’m delighted that Dr. Wong has, first of all, created this program, which you can find at www.patientvoting.com. We’ve got all the links in the show notes, and that she’s mobilized this incredible team of pre-meds and medical students and residents and people who are doing all sorts of other education and training to be part of this project. It is really exciting. It’s really remarkable that I’m delighted that she came on.

Mark Shapiro (01:54):

It’s more important than ever as we watch. COVID 19 surge across the United States in the run up to election day as well. Before we get to this really wonderful conversation with Dr. Wong, please do check out the archive of Explore The Space pPodcast at www.explorethespaceshow.com. Email me anytime you want [email protected] and you can find me on Twitter @ETS show. Wherever you’d like to download your podcast, please subscribe to Explore The Space and please leave us a rating and a review. So really appreciate that if you have a chance to do it, that really means a lot. And it definitely helps us out. There are all sorts of remarkable innovations and activations that are happening in the run up to the 2020 election and this patient voting project that Dr. Wong and her whole team have created is really something special.

Mark Shapiro (02:40):

You’re going to really enjoy listening to this. Please check out the website, please think about how you might be able to utilize it. If you are in medicine and you work in a hospital. And if you know somebody who is hospitalized as well, this is something you can ask about. So without further ado, Dr. Kelly Wong Kelly, welcome to Explore The Space Podcast. I am so happy that you’re here. This is cool, Mark. Thanks for having me on. We were joking before we started. And I said, you know what? I don’t script the show. I don’t know what I’m going to ask you. And then I actually asked you, I think a really good question. I’ve been looking at this website, patient voting. I’ve been getting a better understanding of it just in these last few weeks in the run-up to the 2020 election. Who are you? What, what is going on? This is unbelievable.

Kelly Wong (03:26):

I think a lot of people, when they see patient voting and they see that I like founded Patient Voting, they assume that I had a political background. Like I think they assume I was the kid that went and did like a summer in DC and, you know, been involved in like campaigns before, but I was a very casual voter prior to this. And I actually just fell into this because there was a knowledge gap that I saw

Mark Shapiro (03:48):

That is absolutely fascinating. So I didn’t think that I thought that you were like lightning bolted down from above to fill that need. I was like, I’ve never heard of something like this taking shape with this size and scope. And before we get into like the, how did this happen when I kind of get hyperbolic about size and scope, it’s important that people understand this full transparency. I just learned about patient voting the actual website, this platform that you’ve created just like two weeks ago. And I reached out and said, let’s get, let’s get you on the show. Give us a sense of what is this? What is this entity? What have you created here?

Kelly Wong (04:26):

So, you know, it did start small and it’s definitely grown. So Patient Voting is a nonpartisan volunteer based organization that I founded in 2018, just prior to the midterms two years ago. And so the goal is basically to help patients who are unexpectedly hospitalized around election day, vote from their hospital, but using an emergency absentee ballot. And, you know, most people are familiar with a regular absentee ballot. It’s, you know, what college students use in the military uses when they know they’re going to not be present on election day to go to the polls, but for somebody like you or me who maybe thought we might go to the polling place on election day, and then something happens where we end up in the hospital. This is what an emergency absentee ballot is for it’s for that period of time, after that regular absentee voting deadline to election day.

Mark Shapiro (05:17):

And here’s something that I will share. And I share this with equal parts, excitement, and equal parts sadness. I finished residency in Oh six, 2006. I’ve been an attending ever since my sadness comes from the fact that I am just hearing about this. Now, all those years have gone by all those doctors that I’ve worked with all around the country, the smartest, kindest, most engaged, most interested in their patients that you would ever hope to want to work with. It’s never come up. I’ve not heard of this before. So that’s the sadness. The flip side is, Oh my gosh, look at what you’re helping us to better understand. This is really cool. Now for the rest of our careers, we’ve got this.

Kelly Wong (05:58):

And, you know, nobody told me this during my medical education. And it was pretty much a patient that pointed this out to me during the last presidential election. I was still in med school. And as you know, in the emergency department, when we say, you know, I’m very sorry, but you’re probably going to have to be, be admitted to the hospital. You’re going to have to stay for a couple of days, is my guests, you know, sometimes you hear people say, Oh, I can’t be admitted to the hospital. I need to go home to, you know, do X, Y or Z take care of my grandmother, let my dogs out. And I understand those things, but I, until the presidential election in 2016, never heard somebody say, I can’t be admitted for an NSTEMI. I need to go home and vote and like leave AMA.

Mark Shapiro (06:42):

Yeah. Yeah. I haven’t either, you know, for the, the, the, the, how many election cycles have I been a physician for? I’d actually, I have not heard that yet.

Kelly Wong (06:50):

And, you know, I looked at that patient and I was so taken aback basically. Cause I’m the person that cries when like Tom Hanks talks about the constitution in what’s that spy movie that he did, but any kind of patriotic, patriotic part in a movie, I just know. And, but, you know, it’s, it didn’t seem fair to me that there wasn’t a process for patients to go in the hospital. And once I started researching, I realized most States do have a process. We just don’t know about it. And then our patients don’t know about it if we don’t tell them.

Mark Shapiro (07:22):

So from there, especially with this election, have you found if you, you started this in 2018? I would imagine. And I hate to guess, but I want to, because it’ll just kind of spark. I want to see what you think about this. I would imagine that there has been a surge of interest over the last few months around the Patient Voting project.

Kelly Wong (07:40):

Yes. And I, you know, I think part of that is people are more interested in general in general elections than they are, you know, midterms. But I think this year, if any, with COVID has, you know, elections have been in the news more like different ways that you can vote, vote safely vote early. And so I think people are a little bit more familiar that there might be other ways for them to vote other than the classic, like go to the polling place on election day. But we’re definitely getting a lot more inquiries earlier than we did during the midterms. So yes, we’ve seen a huge surge.

Mark Shapiro (08:17):

And then that brings us to where we are now, right? By the time this episode goes up, we’re going to be close to, you know, we’re going to be less than two weeks away from election day. And we’ll obviously have links to the website and the various tools that exist there. But every state, my understanding is every state has its own regulations about how to obtain the emergency absentee ballot, where we are now, are we still in a place where physicians and nurses and healthcare administrators can reach out to individual patients can do organization within their hospitals and medical groups to actually still utilize this tool?

Kelly Wong (08:52):

It’s definitely not too late. You know, I think I’ve, we’ve set up the website so that you, if you have a single patient, you could download all the materials you need on a case by case basis. But there’s definitely still time to organize on kind of a, a larger institutional level, if you wanted to.

Mark Shapiro (09:08):

And what are the most common questions you’re getting from people who find this website, you know, through social media, through any number of different ways, word of mouth, you know, hopefully this podcast, what are the common questions you’re getting? So we can sort of lay out, maybe some of those answers. Now,

Kelly Wong (09:24):

I think from medical providers, it’s a lot of questions about, you know, I don’t, I see what you have on your website on patient voting.com, but I don’t see that on the state elections website, can you kind of like talk me through that? And I think that’s been one of the biggest problems and kind of why we started this website in the first place. It’s, it’s really, really hard to find these processes on the state election websites, even in states where, you know, it exists and you can look up the state election code and you can look up the state laws and you see that there’s a process. You know, I spent hours on my laptop with 20 tabs open on like, you know, whatever state election search, trying to look up like hospitalized patient medical emergency vote from the hospital, but from, you know, home safely and you just can’t find it on there.

Kelly Wong (10:16):

So that’s been kind of the question from medical providers is the kind of mismatch between what they’re seeing on our website versus what they’re seeing on the election website. And then mostly from patients, I think they are hoping that somebody can help them locally. And so that’s really where, you know, building a network has been kind of one of our goals in the future to have people in different States that are more familiar with that state’s process, or can coordinate with somebody at a local hospital to actually like be in person to help that patient or the patient family.

Mark Shapiro (10:49):

And as you’re watching the news, and we’re all seeing the same data points, and we’re all seeing the same curves and graphs around COVID-19 and hospital admissions and all of these sorts of things, are you expecting more demand as we get closer to election day simply because of that variable?

Kelly Wong (11:10):

Definitely. I think, you know, this year is highlighted that anybody could be hospitalized. When I first imagined this program. I kind of thought of it more, as you know, I’m worried about the patients that have repeat visits for, you know, has CHF exacerbation. And they’re more likely to be hospitalized around the election because they’re, they’re hospitalized frequently or something like that. But you know, this year it could be anybody. And, you know, at the time that we are recording this, you or I, or anybody still has time to be exposed, having an incubation period and get sick and end up in the hospital. So I think, you know, I want everybody to hear about this until all their friends and families cause who knows.

Mark Shapiro (11:52):

And what resistance points have you met as you got this started? It’s been a little over two years. It sounds like that you’ve been working on this project and growing the project. Where have you met resistance? Where have you found friction?

Kelly Wong (12:05):

So I think from a grassroots level, people are very, very excited to bring this to their, their institution. And I’ve been so lucky that I basically experienced no friction at my own institution. So I was pretty taken aback when, you know, other people who wanted to start it at their own hospital were met with opposition, basically from the C-suite. And I think, you know, you, you talk about this is an election and we’re going to try and help people vote. And a lot of hospitals feel like that is too political for them to take a stance on and, and help patients. And for me, I think you can be, I think you can be political, but nonpartisan. And that’s really what we are. We want people to be more civically engaged, but I think it’s really important that we’re encouraging all patients equally that we see and giving the equal opportunities to everyone. But that’s been the number one barrier has been having hospitals approve it.

Mark Shapiro (13:00):

It’s going to be really interesting to see if that changes. I can imagine that that is indeed the case. I think if you were to have asked me the same question, Hey Mark, what do you think is the most common friction point? I would’ve probably said the same thing. I think there’s just, we have an opportunity to really level up in our sophistication and our understanding of what it means to be political within the practice of medicine. There’s a lot more nuance to it, right? Like you said, we’re political, but it is a non-partisan brand. And that, that exists. That’s very real as you, I think, have done a wonderful job of, of crystallizing. And there’s just that level up. It’s just another level of sophistication. And I think we’ll look at 2020 as a real pivot point where we realized that we need to make that next level of sophistication, as opposed to using the blunt instrument that has been there for generations, don’t get political conversation over.

Kelly Wong (13:47):

Right. You know, I remember looking four years ago when I started looking into whether or not patients could vote and there really wasn’t a lot. And I remember, you know, you where you you’ve been on Twitter for a while, I assume.

Mark Shapiro (14:00):

Yeah. I’ve been on Twitter for, you know, enough enough. I don’t know. Self-Conscious there all of a sudden

Kelly Wong (14:07):

I’ve been on since I think 2015, but I remember it used to be very voodoo, you know, put your political comments out there along with your quote unquote professional Twitter account. That used to be a huge no-no. And I think this year, you know, people have, you know, decided to take a stance. What am I go back to it? Something else about the COVID questions. Yes, please do. So with all of the hospitalizations for COVID, I’ve actually gotten a lot of questions from, you know, social work, people working at a hospital saying we have the patient, we have their ballot, but if we bring the ballot into the patient, we can’t bring it out. Now one interesting. So just yesterday I was on, I made a couple calls to Washington’s board of elections offices to try and work with them about a specific patient who we want, he really wanted to vote. And so we were able to actually find a way, which is awesome. Wow.

Mark Shapiro (15:11):

Wow. So again, we need to get to a place where it doesn’t rely on a phone call to Dr. Wong and then Dr. Wong calling the election board of a state that’s on the other side of the continental United States to lobby for one patient. We have, we have many levels of sophistication that we need to grow to do this, right?

Kelly Wong (15:31):

Yeah. I think there’s a lot of room for kind of identifying barriers in the future. I think that’s like our goal for the next four.

Mark Shapiro (15:39):

Yeah. Yeah. One of the things that’s really striking to me about patient voting as well, the project as well is, you know, I was talking with Alice Chen from Doctors for Biden and one of the things that she and I were reflecting on because she and I went through medical school and training at relatively similar times. I think I maybe was two years ahead of her or something like that, that as medical students and residents, this was not something any of us did. But when I go to the patient voting website and I look at the who we are page and, or the, you know, the, the, the, our team link, it’s all medical students, it’s all residents. It’s amazing.

Kelly Wong (16:17):

It really is. And I think

Mark Shapiro (16:19):

It’s premeds too. I mean, it’s, it’s, you know, people who were in PA school, I’m scrolling through it right now. It’s, it’s phenomenal.

Kelly Wong (16:27):

Ed techs are having social work directors of patient experience

Mark Shapiro (16:33):

Tapping into something that’s really exciting for the generation of doctors and doctors to be behind mine. It’s, it’s really remarkable.

Kelly Wong (16:42):

Yeah. Future medicine is bright and it’s younger than me.

Mark Shapiro (16:46):

W w why, what is the, what is, what is the offer that, or what is what’s drawing them, do you think?

Kelly Wong (16:51):

I don’t, I mean, maybe, you know, just timing wise is, you know, since 2000 you know, there’s been a lot discord about mismatch between the electoral college and popular boat, and maybe they’ve just grown up with, we either need to be active and change things, or just kind of accept the election results. And maybe they’re just a little bit more used to this political activism at work.

Mark Shapiro (17:21):

Also, do you guys, as a group ever reflect on this, do you ever sort of look around and say, gosh, we’re, we are in a younger demographic, not knowing everyone’s age, but just saying, look, we’re all early career. At least what’s up. Why are, why is it us?

Kelly Wong (17:35):

I don’t know. I didn’t really notice until you pointed it out, but

Mark Shapiro (17:37):

I was blown away by it. I was like waiting to see, you know, the faculty mentor or something like you guys don’t get a faculty mentor. You guys are crushing it, faculty mentors at this they’re coming to me with research projects. They

Kelly Wong (17:50):

Want to do they want to know more about this than anybody? Yeah. They they’re the experts on this. They’re the ones that I’ve talked to all the boards of elections, like their funnel.

Mark Shapiro (17:59):

That is so cool. So what do you foresee for the next two weeks as we come up to election day as we come up to November 3rd? What’s your wishlist with patient voting?

Kelly Wong (18:08):

I mean, I always say that my ultimate goal with patient voting is for it to be obsolete. And maybe that’s not, that’s definitely not this year, but, you know, I would love to go talk to patients this year because we’re just kind of starting on that emergency absentee voting timeline here in the state. I’d love to go talk to patients and have them say, Oh, don’t worry about it. I already voted. Like, I think that’s ideal. I already believed in a safe, early manner, right. Rate my job is done. My job didn’t even start. That’s perfect. Yeah. I do anticipate hearing a little bit more of that actually this year, but I think in the next two weeks, it’s going to ramp up and we’re going to have a lot more of those kinds of COVID isolation case by case basis, because previously it was, Oh, follow the standard protocol of the state. And now it’s, every situation is different. Whether or not it’s, you know, family members that have to serve as an authorized representative to pick up the ballot, can’t get into the hospital because of visitor policies. Cause of COVID. Yeah. There’s a lot more barriers to this than there had been in the, in the past.

Mark Shapiro (19:12):

There’s a lot more barriers. I agree with you in what I would say for my wishlist, it would be acknowledging that I’m just learning about it now is for what time we have left, it would basically just be as many people engaging with it as possible. But for the next go around, you know, the 20, 22 midterms, the next general election, I would like to see are big organizations providing patients with the information up front. So as soon as the deadlines are, as soon as the windows are open for, for emergency ballots in any state that just like, you know, when you get admitted to the hospital, you’ve got some paperwork to complete, or your family has some that this is part of it. And they say, here’s one of your options. If you would like, if you, you know, you can apply for this, that sort of thing. I think that getting that level of sophistication is going to be really, really important. We’re just become standard work.

Kelly Wong (19:57):

Right. And you know, maybe my local hospital can set like a guideline on this. This is what we’re doing. We, every admitted patient is receiving a flyer. Wow. And I think that’s awesome.

Mark Shapiro (20:09):

That is totally awesome. It’s so inspiring. It’s really remarkable. I think that after this election, I, man, you’re going to have such an incredible career and you’re going to have so many cool things you get to do, right? The stuff, you know, blog about it, podcast about it, get on the news. Like you’ve really tapped into something very important here. And the experiences that you’ve learned are going to make it easier for other people to replicate it. And most importantly, for patients who are admitted and don’t obviously want to be in the hospital, they can still vote.

Kelly Wong (20:39):

Exactly. And you know, Mark, just like you said earlier, I think when you thought that hospitals kind of administration and improving like political program was the biggest barrier. All of these hospitals are wondering what other hospitals are doing. They all want to hear what the other big systems they need other people to have done it first. Yeah. Yeah. So I think it’s, it’s a trickle and then hopefully it’ll open up in the future. Like you said,

Mark Shapiro (21:05):

How on the website? It says who’s doing it. You’ve listed some really big organizations that are on the patientvoting.com website that have adopted this. Yeah. And look, it’s, that’s how it starts. These are big, big organizations that anyone can have it to go there, www.patientvoting.com and you can see them for yourself. And you’re going to see names that you recognize

Kelly Wong (21:22):

Adding more every day. That’s

Mark Shapiro (21:24):

So cool. So how do people find this individual physicians, nurses, family members of somebody who may be admitted to the hospital, how do they find patient voting? How do they find out more information? Not just about this project, but about specifically the state that they’re in.

Kelly Wong (21:37):

Yeah. So if you go to patientvoting.com, if you go to patientvoting.com/states, or there’s also a way to get to it from like how to vote, basically it’s really important because every state is so, so different. The deadlines are different the way in which you have to get your application to the election. Officials is different. So what we’ve done is create a state page that has the deadlines that has the process has a principal, state flyer PDF with the step-by-step instructions. And then where possible, where there has been a, you know, application posted to the state election website, we’ve put that on our website and in Google folder. So hopefully we’ve put most of those important materials all together. So that healthcare workers, whoever’s social work, friends or family, aren’t going to 10 different websites that all download things.

Mark Shapiro (22:27):

And we’ll have links to all of that in the show notes for this episode as well. Kelly, this is remarkable. The fact that you have kind of just put this project on your shoulders and built this incredible team of, you know, the next generation and the current generation of young physicians and physicians to be in PAs to be in text. And it’s really exciting. I am feeling so inspired. It’s sort of that shot in the arm in these last two weeks before the election. This is awesome work. Thank you for doing it. And thank you so much for coming on.

Kelly Wong (22:57):

Thanks Mark. Thanks for having me.

Mark Shapiro (23:00):

My thanks once again to Dr. Wong for joining us on Explore The Space Podcast to talk about the Patient Voting project. Definitely take a look at the links in the show notes, learn about this. If there’s time before this election, and there is still time, please make use of it and definitely start to integrate it into your regular workflows because it’s going to be around these rules and laws around people who need an emergency ballot have always been there. We’re just learning about it now. Thanks also to Laurie Baedke and Creighton University for sponsoring this episode, learn more about Creighton’s executive MBA and executive fellowship programs at www.creighton.edu/CHEE. We’ve done a ton of content around the election. Please take a look at the archive. We’re getting closer and closer to election day. Please make sure you make a plan. Please help your friends and teammates and colleagues and family make a safe voting plan.

Mark Shapiro (23:50):

If you can vote early, take advantage of that opportunity. We’re coming down to the wire. So this is the time to make sure all of those pieces are in place so that you can cast your ballot and that your voice can be heard as you’re doing all of this great work. Make sure you wear a mask. Make sure you wash your hands, maintain physical distancing. Make sure you get your flu shot. Take good care of yourselves. Take care of the people around you. We will see you again soon. Thanks so much for listening. Bye bye.

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