The current COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to change their usual routines, and the medical industry is no exception. Patients and providers have created and adapted to new systems so medical care can continue as safely as possible. One of those new systems is telehealth.
Patients can now see their providers over virtual appointments either with a video call or a typical voice call. Telehealth is a fantastic option, especially while going out and being in close proximity to other people is not advised, but other benefits to telehealth might be less obvious. This new technology is providing an excellent service, but it is also helping our planet.
Telehealth offers so many benefits to so many different people that the practice is being considered for post-pandemic life as well. It may become a standard way of seeing your doctor. Telehealth works for various medical appointments ranging from talk therapy to outpatient physical therapy, which makes telehealth flexible enough to suit different situations.
The medical industry is an essential component of modern life, but it also touts a substantial carbon footprint mainly due to travel. You have to take a vehicle ride, personal car or public transit, to and from your doctor’s office. When you add up all the patients making the same to and from trip, that is a lot of pollution from vehicles. We also have to consider each patient travels a different distance to reach their doctor’s office and return home.
Someone who drives 5 minutes to reach the office will generate less pollution than someone who drives an hour or jumps around public transit for 3 hours. Now add all the doctors, nurses, and administrative staff that have to make the same trip every day for work.
Telehealth removes the need for travel and, therefore, will significantly reduce the medical industry’s carbon footprint. One study from the NHS found using telehealth to replace physical appointments could reduce carbon emissions by 40-70 times. Telehealth is especially impactful for patients who live far from their doctor’s office. Rural patients still deserve quality care, and with telehealth, they aren’t forced to drive long distances to receive care. Telehealth is a win-win in many situations. Patients no longer have to drive to the office, but neither do office staff, which will significantly reduce the medical industry’s contribution to global vehicle pollution.
Medical Industry Office Waste
Transportation is just one area where the medical industry creates waste. After every patient leaves the exam room of a traditional doctor’s office, the room must be cleaned and prepped for the next patient. This cleaning procedure is even more rigorous during a global health crisis. While cleaning medical exam rooms is essential, the cleaning equipment is not zero waste. Cleaning chemicals can be toxic, and wipes are typically one-time use. Even reusable cleaning rags must be washed in hot water for medical sterility, and while this is a better option than one-use wipes, it still consumes energy. The medical industry will never function without any waste, but telehealth reduces unnecessary waste every day.
Other areas of a doctor’s office also create waste in a different sense. Any office building uses electricity, and medical offices generally use air purifiers, which take even more energy. Telehealth might allow a doctor’s office to have reduced physical office hours to save on energy costs or move the practice to a small footprint space. Paper records and forms also contribute to waste. Telehealth systems often work in tandem with practice management software to keep the office running digitally.
Easier Access to Care Now For Less Waste Later
Telehealth will also let some patients receive care faster than they could have otherwise. The patient who lives an hour away may only have one day a week to make it to the office, but telehealth means they have more options. Patients receiving care faster could reduce potential waste down the road. A patient who can’t easily make it into an office might put off their care until it becomes more severe, and they can’t ignore it anymore. More serious medical conditions require more supplies and treatment, which means more resources are used on something that could have been prevented with a convenient telehealth appointment.
Telehealth helps reduce or eliminate waste from multiple sources without compromising the quality of the office’s care or functional capabilities. Further studies are currently underway to discover the full extent of how telehealth can help the medical industry be more eco-friendly. A few green benefits we are already seeing are fantastic evidence that telehealth is an excellent option for patients, providers, and our planet.