The healthcare sector is working on sustainability, mainly by recycling materials, supplying buildings with green energy and capturing medicine residues through proper disposal. However, sustainability policies often fail to address appropriate and digital healthcare, says Walter Kien, director healthcare at IG&H. Instead, he believes that preventing non-effective care and replacing physical care with digital care is the fastest way to reduce emissions.
Healthcare is a significant source of pollution, even surpassing the aviation sector. In fact, the healthcare sector is responsible for between 6 and 7 percent of the total CO2 emissions in the Netherlands. This amount to a gigantic 0.8 tons of CO2 per year per capita - or seven round trips from Amsterdam to London. Moreover, the Dutch healthcare system is 20 percent more polluting than healthcare in other countries.
Sustainability is a hot topic
Fortunately, the sector is increasingly aware of this. During the climate summit in Glasgow, more than fifty countries, including the Netherlands, pledged to make their own healthcare more sustainable.
In the Netherlands, the sector has laid this goal down in the form of the Green Deal Sustainable Care (Dutch Green Deal Duurzame Zorg). There are now more than two hundred parties that promise to work on the four themes of the Green Deal. All sorts of initiatives support CO2 reduction: circular business operations, reduction of medicine residues in wastewater and a healthy working environment.
The Green Deal Zorg 2.0 will expire in October and a new agreement is currently being discussed. Healthcare providers are following these guidelines and putting a lot of effort into making healthcare greener. But the real question is whether the sector is doing enough, whether it is moving fast enough, and whether all options are being explored and used to their full potential.
Going greener through prevention
What is striking is that appropriate and digital care are thus far the big absentees on the sustainability agenda. While appropriate care, also called proven effective care, can contribute greatly to the reduction of emissions. After all, the most sustainable form of healthcare is simply not implementing non-effective care. Like not getting on a plane to London.
Replacing physical care with digital care also results in fewer travel movements for the patient and healthcare professional. In the long run, it requires less real estate and energy.
Potential is synonymous to digital
Of course, the type of care must lend itself to these sustainability opportunities. However, there seems to be no shortage of potential for more digital and appropriate care. Estimates of care that could be moved to patients’ homes with digital support run as high as 45 percent of total hospital care. About 10 percent of healthcare is believed to not have had its efficiency proven.
There are plenty of examples that show that in some cases, no care means better care. A well-known example from the Do-or-let-it-be program (Dutch Doen of laten-programma) is stopping gastroscopies for stomach complaints because they rarely lead to clinical consequences.
The use of digital care can also have a variety of benefits for the quality and accessibility of care. For example, the use of telemonitoring in patients with chronic heart problems has been shown to result in 40 percent fewer nursing days, 30 percent fewer emergency room trips and 70 percent fewer emergency room visits.
Thus, including appropriate and digital care in the sustainability policy provides both areas with an additional boost. This boost is more than welcome given the ever-increasing staff shortages and healthcare costs in the Netherlands.
Care and conservation
By really focusing on appropriate and digital care, a decrease of the total Dutch emissions down to an average European level would be possible in due time. We would then be conserving about one and a half return flights from Amsterdam to London per person.
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Director healthcare IG&H