How health care providers can be part of the solution to climate change


At IDWeek 2023, a presentation on the emotional and financial cost of climate change, and what clinicians can do right now to help.

Diverse people with varying occupations:©

Diverse people with varying occupations:©

In her session, “Climate change is a pandemic: decreasing emissions is the vaccine we need to be part of the solution. Healthcare workers: Being part of the solution at the local level,” Preeti Jaggi, MD, professor of pediatrics at Emory University of School of Medicine and antimicrobial stewardship program director, spoke at IDWeek about how health care workers can be a very real part of the solution for climate change.

Sixty percent of young people report feeling worried about climate change causing them anger and distress, noted Jaggi. Rapidly warming climate is the greatest threat to global public health right now, and diseases display changing patterns as a result of record-breaking extreme temperatures every year.

The health care industry contributes disproportionately to the problem which is why health care workers need to be a part of the solution, Jaggi argues. The health care industry accounts for about 8.5% of total carbon emissions. Sustainability and climate change go hand in hand because air pollution contributes to climate change. Anesthetic gases and meter dose inhalers, how we use our antibiotics, how we use our resources for infection prevention and control, and how we use plastic and food in our hospitals all add up.

Jaggi asserts that health care providers should work towards mitigating the industry’s effect on climate change. Addressing waste is low-hanging fruit area where health care providers can start. Hospitals waste a lot of drugs, notably when drugs are ordered in hospitals then canceled and returned to the pharmacy. One major children’s hospital estimated the cost of such waste to be about $100,000 annually. Initiatives that address decreasing this waste leads to improved quality and efficiency of care, cuts costs, and benefits the environment.

In surgery and anesthesia, there is tremendous room for decreasing carbon emissions by measuring fresh flow gas rates normalized per anesthesia hour. Reducing surgeries when not needed and decreasing unnecessary procedures or scans that require anesthesia is also a part of the solution.

Additionally, encouraging use of telemedicine when appropriate is also a climate change solution, Jaggi explains. One study evaluating telemedicine for oncology patients shows that in one year with telemedicine, 91.5 passenger vehicles driven for a year were saved. With the COVID-19 pandemic, both doctors and patients tried to navigate the advent of telemedicine.

Jaggi urged attendees to apply these lessons and incorporate telemedicine regularly in their practice, after evaluating which patients and situations are most appropriate.

Finally, Jaggi reminded the audience that within each health care provider is a steward that can use the principles of diagnostic and antibiotic stewardship to apply to sustainability and climate change, and should apply the antibiotic stewardship lessons about appropriately ordering drugs and tests more broadly and utilize resources available wisely.

Jaggi encouraged everyone to collaborate, form a community for those interested in clinics or hospitals and contribute to building something better “for our kids’ future,” she noted.

Jaggi P. Climate change is a pandemic: decreasing emissions is the vaccine we need to be part of the solution. Healthcare workers: Being part of the solution at the local level. IDWeek 2023. October 12, 2023. Boston, Massachusetts.

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