Friday, August 05, 2016

Environmental and health impacts of US health-care system

Public Release: 9-Jun-2016
Environmental and health impacts of US health-care system
Yale University

f the U.S. healthcare system were a country, it would rank 13th in the world for greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research. The study, published June 9 in PLOS ONE, quantified previously unreported environmental and public health impacts of the nation's healthcare sector.

The U.S. healthcare system, the most expensive in the world, uses vast amounts of energy in the form of heating, electricity, and energy-intensive goods and services. It has been estimated that the healthcare sector contributes 8% of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. Yet emissions of other pollutants from the healthcare sector, and their impact on the public health, have not been reported.


Among their findings, the researchers estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from the healthcare sector grew 30% over the past decade, accounting for 9.8% of the national total in 2013. Were it a country, the sector would rank "ahead of the entire United Kingdom" in emissions, said Sherman.

The research team also reported significant national percentages of non-greenhouse gas effects attributable to the healthcare sector, including acidification (12%), smog formation (10%), and respiratory disease from particulate matter (9%).


In addition, the researchers calculated the public health impact of healthcare emissions. For the year 2013, they estimated health damages from the pollutants at 470,000 "disability adjusted life years" (DALYs) -- a measure of years lost due to ill health, disability, or early death.

That health burden, the researchers said, is comparable to lives lost each year to preventable medical errors first reported by the Institute of Medicine in 1999, sparking national attention on patient safety. "It's on the same order of magnitude, and we ought to pay attention to it," Sherman noted.

Also detailed in the study are recent efforts to "green" the healthcare system, such as the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. These initiatives, designed to make the healthcare sector more sustainable and reduce pollution, can also improve public health and patient safety, the researchers said.

"While some pollution is currently inevitable in our efforts to safely care for patients, there is a tremendous amount of waste in our healthcare system," said Sherman. "People are trying to reduce waste from a cost perspective. But there is a public health perspective as well that is important. Protecting public health is also an issue of patient safety."

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