I’m so busy focusing on patient care – do I really need to work on the environmental impact of my healthcare practice too?
Yes. Patient care is important – it is the primary reason healthcare organizations exist. But many healthcare professionals have taken an oath to not only ensure quality patient care but also to “do no harm,” to serve to prevent healthcare problems and to support society, like in article VII of the AMA Code of Ethics that states: “A physician shall recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to an improved community.” By many estimates, healthcare is a $3 trillion industry, making it almost 17% of U.S. GDP. With any large sector of our economy there will be large environmental impacts, but it is even more imperative that we address these impacts because they also affect public health, contributing to health problems we promised to cure and prevent.
You may be wondering “How big is this issue, really?” Well…
- Practice Greenhealth reports that the healthcare sector generates 29 pounds of waste per staffed bed per day. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that American hospitals produce over 5.9 million tons of waste per year. That’s almost 500,000 garbage trucks worth of waste and most of it goes to landfills and incinerators.
- Energy use in U.S. hospitals costs over $8 billion annually and over 90% of the energy is from non-renewable sources. These sources produce air emissions that negatively affect health and contribute to climate change, which also negatively affects health through an increase in extreme weather events.
- Water use in hospitals represents 7% of all corporate and institutional use. With the aging and inefficient water and sewer infrastructure in our nation, our water use also contributes to the burdens from energy use.
- A vast array of chemicals is used in the healthcare industry for diagnosis, treatment and cleaning/disinfecting. While these help us do our jobs effectively, the production and use of some chemicals may also be contributing harm.
Healthcare Hub’s Eco-Friendly Medical Supplies are available to make it easy for you to carry out your healthcare mission while also reducing your organization’s negative impact on the environment. We welcome your ideas and input so please contact us if you have questions or ideas to share. And visit us again as we will be sharing our own ideas and tips to help you set and achieve environmental sustainability goals so you can feel confident that you are upholding your healthcare oath.