Addressing Healthcare’s Environmental Problem
All medical practitioners swear, as part of the ancient Hippocratic Oath, to “do no harm.” So, what should our responsibility be when we learn that our hospitals are making people sick?
Hospitals are responsible for 8.5% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States, and nearly 5% of all emissions globally. And researchers have found that emissions from hospitals have reduced life expectancy in the U.S. by 388,000 disability-adjusted years (Health Affairs, 2020).
Research has shown that over 80% of those emissions come from the supply chain (Health Affairs, 2020). As such, using reprocessed medical devices is a critical part of the solution: A 2021 published life cycle assessment of just one such device found that reprocessing reduced ozone depleting emissions by nearly 90%, and climate change specific emissions by over 50% compared with using an original device (Sustainability, 2021). If all hospitals and other care centers used reprocessed devices wherever they could, the GHG emissions footprint of the healthcare industry would be substantially lower.