Healthcare facilities have many things to juggle and creating sustainable processes should be near the top of the list. According to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the healthcare system has a large impact on the environment and the general public. The study states how the U.S. healthcare sector emits a large portion of the nation’s air, water, and soil pollution, and those very emissions can be attributed to harmful effects faced by the public. The study goes on to indicate the different pollution that the healthcare sector was responsible for in 2013 goes as follows:
- 12% of the acid rain;
- 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions;
- 10% of the smog formation;
- 9% of the criteria air pollutants;
- 1-2% of the carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic air toxics;
- 1% of the stratospheric ozone depletion.
Sustainability in healthcare is one of many ways to improve healthcare practices. It helps improve efficiency, effectiveness, economics, and the environment through minor integrated changes to policies and processes. Small, continual changes to the way that things are facilitated in a healthcare facility can help promote sustainable operations while improving access to healthcare, effective documentation, and reducing overhead costs.
Many individuals are unaware of the horrific waste and dangers of paper medical records. Not only are paper records environmentally inefficient, but they are also just as susceptible to breaches, and they cost more to maintain. The use of electronic health records can help improve the healthcare industry’s environmental footprint drastically. Below are some of the benefits of digital records over paper records in healthcare:
- Improves Eco-Friendliness: when you step away from unnecessary paper use, you reduce the amount of paper waste, which in turn reduces your carbon footprint;
- Maximizes Time: when you implement electronic records, you allow for faster retrieval of records, lab results, and collaboration with other healthcare professionals. They generally cut down on human documentation error (e.g. sloppy handwriting, misplaced files) that can slow down the flow of work as well;
- Reduces Cost: when you get rid of paper records, you reduce paper costs, as well as ink/printing costs. When you implement electronic records, you create more time-efficient processes. Additionally, when you create more time-efficient processes, you speed up workflow, reduce labor costs, and increase the amount of care that you are able to provide;
- Strengthens Security: when you have paper documents, you are at risk for irreparable damage in the case of a natural disaster. You also have paper documentation that can be stolen. When you store information digitally, you are better protected for these scenarios;
- Empowers Growth: if you are growing, it can be time-consuming and inefficient to continue using paper processes. When you switch to digital records, you create a more scalable business model;
- Saves Space: when you switch to digital records, you don’t need a physical location to store paper records.
Healthcare is limited in rural areas and healthcare is costly, so people tend to skip regular visits, skip follow-up appointments, and avoid healthcare facilities entirely whenever it is inconvenient. Telemedicine allows healthcare professionals to communicate, evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients from a distance via telecommunications. Telemedicine solves many problems faced by healthcare organizations — primarily surrounding healthcare accessibility. One of the primary eco-benefits of telemedicine is that it reduces the need to travel, car emissions, and other resources needed to gain access to care.
Telemedicine can make healthcare greener by creating more efficient healthcare processes like eliminating the costly problems of no-shows. It also reduces the need for in-person care. By addressing this issue, organizations reduce the risk of spreading sickness or wasting the time of individuals who didn’t need to come in for in-person care from the beginning — for example:
- People that have symptoms that could have been managed from home;
- At-risk individuals (e.g. elderly, those with pre-existing conditions);
- Individuals only coming in for a follow-up appointment or routine check-up;
- Individuals traveling for non-emergent, or routine check-ups.
When you improve things like accessibility, you improve how efficiently the organization functions as a whole. When you improve how the organization functions, you increase the eco-friendliness of an organization and its processes.
When you build, update, remodel, or expand a healthcare facility, you want to make sure that you are doing do sustainably. Much like building a home for the future, you want to ensure your healthcare facility is built with the future in mind. Sustainable building — also known as green building — needs a focus on one or more of the following aspects:
- Improving the quality of life within the local climate, tradition, or culture;
- Improving the environment in the region;
- Conserving the energy or resources used to build;
- Reducing the exposure to hazardous materials;
- Improving the local and glocal ecosystem throughout construction.
Sustainable building efforts need to consider the material used. Sustainable construction materials include straw bales, bamboo, recycled plastic, wood, rammed earth, ferrock, and timbercrete.
Sustainable building efforts should also consider different features throughout the facility like solar, lighting, and windows. When you are building, you should consider the benefits of solar health. It helps create reliable, quality, sustainable energy that is cost-effective. When you design facilities with more windows, you create an opportunity for natural light. This not only reduces the amount of lighting you need during the day, but it also helps give patients access to nature even when they are physically unable to go outside. This can also help create more sustainable cleaning efforts since sunshine helps kill germs indoors.
Quicker Access to Nature
You want to ensure access to nature whenever possible. Many medical professionals are seeing the value of nature-based interventions for improving health and well-being. While this may seem like an odd strategy, it is a simple method for improving the eco-friendliness of a healthcare structure. Some examples include:
- Choosing a location that is surrounded by nature;
- Adding plants in common areas, or rooms;
- Creating water features in common areas, outside the hospital;
- Creating a garden (either inside or outside).
These can improve aesthetics and create a relaxing, welcoming environment, but they also help purify the air in the facility.
Locally Sourced Food
Most healthcare facilities provide some sort of cafeteria or kitchen where food is prepared for patients and visitors. The food can be sourced from all sorts of places, but you should aim to purchase locally sourced food because local food is healthier and better for the environment. When you purchase as much food as you can locally, you reduce the number of food miles traveled. When the food you purchase is transported fewer miles, it reduces the amount of air pollution and fuel use. When food has to be transported less, it equates to more fresh food that is less at-risk for contaminants.
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