The U.S. healthcare system is damaging to environment. So now what?

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 - Michael Walter
Michael Walter, Associate Editor

Here’s a not-so-fun thought: Our healthcare system is having a bad effect on the environment. It’s having a really bad effect, actually.

In fact, according to recent research published by PLOS ONE, if the U.S. healthcare sector was its own country, it would rank 13th in the whole world in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“The fundamental tenet of healthcare practice is ‘ Do no harm,’ but ironically, the practice of healthcare itself causes significant pollution, and, consequently, indirect adverse effects on public health,” wrote Matthew Eckelman, Northeastern University, and Jodi Sherman, MD, Yale School of Medicine.

This isn’t necessarily a surprise. One might expect the world’s most expensive healthcare system to do some significant damage to the environment. Hospitals suck up energy like a chocolate milkshake through a straw, and GHG emissions are high all over the U.S., not just in healthcare.

But these still aren’t pleasant statistics, and they bring to mind a series of important questions. What is being done to fix this? What can those in the imaging industry do? Is it too late to reverse course?

As imaging societies meet over the next few years, I hope this topic picks up steam and becomes a part of the daily conversation. More incentives from the federal government for healthcare companies to act with more caution could make a difference as well.

Eckelman and Sherman concluded that researchers must “measure, mitigate and educate on the considerable human health and environmental impacts associated with healthcare practice itself,” and I agree completely. The better this problem is understood, the better chance our nation’s specialists will have of determining a potential solution.

There are real solutions out there somewhere, and I have faith that the country’s researchers will help find them. As healthcare moves from volume to value and quantity to quality, here’s hoping it also moves toward being less harmful to the environment and more focused on leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible.