What a doctor can learn from canvassing in New Hampshire

In the past week, I canvassed the communities of New Hampshire. My very first time. What an experience.

2016.02.07 Presidential Primary, Manchester, NH, USA 02522
2016.02.07 Presidential Primary, Manchester, NH, USA 02522 (View on Flickr.com)

The candidate involved isn’t relevant here, since this blog is about total health and what I learned yesterday…

Behavior change science that we don’t use in health care as much

The success of personally-delivered mobilization messages suggests that human interaction may be fundamental to the success of mobilization campaigns.

The quote above is from Lessons from GOTV (Get Out The Vote) experiments | Institution for Social and Policy Studies, because there have been experiments. And it’s all trained and leveraged to encourage the desired behavior – voting. Not changing people’s minds – going to vote.

The things I’ve studied in behavior change in general, like making a plan, setting a realistic goal, making and affirming commitments, it’s all here, systematically deployed, and over a long period of time.

2016.02.05 Manchester New Hampshire, USA 02344
2016.02.05 Manchester New Hampshire, USA 02344 (View on Flickr.com)

It’s trained quickly to a diversity of volunteers from health and legal professionals to students and professionals-in-training. Who typically complete 3 shifts over the course of a day.

Good will

Nearly everyone was kind and gracious and open, a lot more kind, gracious and open than one might expect considering that we made the “appointment” with them, on our time, not the other way around.

The dialogue included laughter, passion, sadness, frustration, hope.

2016.02.08 Presidential Primary, Manchester, NH USA 02661
2016.02.08 Presidential Primary, Manchester, NH USA 02661 (View on Flickr.com)

The experience was like the field work I engaged in last year around the transgender person health experience. Amazing to see, in this context, that people are interested in a world that’s learning to love better, across all dimensions, for people like themselves, and the people around them.


We met veterans. We met labor union members. We met working people with families. We met retirees. We met people who are experiencing curiosity, discovery, and growth in their lives. And we met people for whom life has been more challenging.

We met people in their social network, their neighborhood, where people seemed to have similar health destinies. This is not the place where doctors usually meet their patients.

2016 Salem and Portsmouth, NH 02428
2016 Salem and Portsmouth, NH 02428 (View on Flickr.com)

The research on social networks and interpersonal influence, while under explored in the experimental literature, suggests that 1) personalized messages delivered by personal contacts may be more effective than personalized messages delivered by people outside a voter’s social network, and 2) social networks and interpersonal communication may effectively induce positive externalities of GOTV campaigns by proliferating mobilization messages once received to others in the network and, alternatively, by exerting strong social norms of participation within the network.


There were so many volunteers deployed, from all over the world, on their own time, to assist in the cause.

To be successful, as the science shows, you have to engage at a personal level with people, and these volunteers did it.

The staff is highly engaged. Much of what they do is unrecognized by the public who receive the results of their efforts.

2016.02.05 Manchester New Hampshire, USA 02407
2016.02.05 Manchester New Hampshire, USA 02407 (View on Flickr.com)

I imagined what it would be like if the interdiscipilnary health professions were engaged at this level.

What diseases could we not only prevent, but pre-empt by having a depth of knowledge about a person and their family/social unit, where they exist in time and space?

Leadership and culture

The experience was also an opportunity to exist in another organization temporarily, in a different culture, that by necessity had to be created quickly, and flexed to absorb many new people on a regular basis. That’s not easy.

2016.02.09  Presidential Campaign New Hampshire USA 02780
2016.02.09 Presidential Campaign New Hampshire USA 02780 (View on Flickr.com)

I realize I am not the first person to canvas, we’re at least 250 years into this phenomenon, and I’m definitely not the first doctor to do it in this context, or canvas a neighborhood for health.

At one point, I was thanked by a fellow volunteer, for using my time off and personal resources to be present. That took me by surprise – I felt like I should be doing the thanking.

More photos below. If you’ve never done this before, I recommend it, part of crosstraining in the human spirit 🙂 .

2016.02.05 Manchester New Hampshire, USA 02315
2016.02.05 Manchester New Hampshire, USA 02315 (View on Flickr.com)


TED!! Long time no see. You were in my home turf and you didn’t let me know??? Waaa!

We got SO overcanvassed (at least 4 visits from each Democratic candidate) that I eventually made a sign for our mailbox (at the curb) saying “No *more* canvassers, please” with a donkey and elephant and smileys a stars-and-stripes “VOTE!” and “Thanks!” like that one.

Did I ever tell you that my senior paper (pseudo-thesis) was on the motivation of volunteers in the McGovern campaign? Boy was THAT a story for another day.

Thank you for being engaged!

Hey Dave,

You’re right I should have let you know…maybe you would have walked the neighborhood with us 🙂 .

Signs were really helpful, clearly this is a community that has experience with canvassing. I still wonder what it would be like if your doctor paid you (or a patient) a canvassing visit once a year.

Do tell your volunteer story, I like stories, especially yours.

Hope to see you soon,


Hi Ted,

When you mentioned the possibility of doctors going door to door, I immediately thought of SOS Médecins, a group of ~175 doctors who make 24/7 house calls in France. I found a blog post here (http://hipparis.com/2015/01/30/sick-in-paris-french-medical-assistance-101/) by someone who used their services for their kids. The doctor came to their house within 20 minutes of the call.

It doesn’t seem to promote ongoing relationships between patients and doctors, but it’s an interesting look at how health care services can be made more personal, accessible, and convenient for patients.



Agreed, there is much inspiration for innovation out there. Thanks for taking a look and for the good read,


Ted Eytan, MD