Sustainability in Healthcare: Introduction and Challenges

Sustainability in healthcare systems has been a hot topic for discussion for some time already, especially given the growing interest in reducing the environmental impact of our daily actions. How healthcare workers commute to work, provide their care, and which materials they use – all of these and other factors significantly affect the environment. Let’s not forget that day-to-day functioning of hospitals requires a fair bit of electricity – after all, tools used by doctors, EKG machines, but also, for example, G.E. medical systems and the entire infrastructure involved doesn’t run on water.

Using digital technologies in healthcare on a regular basis (such as) is one of the best solutions to bring environmental benefits. However, sustainability in healthcare brings more challenges than benefits at the moment.

Sustainability in Healthcare

In this article, we will look at the wide range of issues that healthcare professionals will face in terms of sustainability. Apart from creating quality environments and implementing solutions to maximize the likelihood of a sustainable system, they include assessing overall organizational impact and other things. Continue reading for an overview of sustainability in healthcare and the challenges it entails.

How Can Healthcare Become Sustainable?

There are many ways to make healthcare more sustainable. One of the most common ways is to adopt environmentally friendly methods of working – for example, using recycled paper or energy saving light bulbs or sustainable medical waste management. While this may sound like an insignificant change, eco-friendly changes can make a big difference in the long term.

For example, if you’re considering switching your light bulbs to ones made with LEDs, you could save hundreds on your electricity bill each year. Now, if we consider that there are quite a few lights in hospitals, it comes as no surprise that such a move would have a great effect on the environment.

Another way that healthcare organizations can become sustainable is by making small changes to their existing practices or policies that lead to better usage of resources. For example, making it mandatory for the doctors to use reusable materials whenever possible during surgery, which will reduce the amount of waste generated.

There are also some new technologies on the market that can help to reduce waste generation during surgery. One new model uses an ultraviolet sterilizer instead of chemical sterilizing agents which are expensive and need regular replacement.

Another technology of interest is the use of freezers instead of refrigerators to store organs after surgery, which would both reduce energy usage and lower healthcare costs.

When it comes to making sustainable changes within your healthcare organization, it’s important that you don’t focus solely on reducing your environmental impact; it’s equally important that you focus on your financial impact as well.

Organizational Impact Assessment

An organizational impact assessment refers to a thorough review of an organization’s activities and their impact on the environment and society at large – normally carried out alongside other sustainability assessments such as those mentioned above. An organizational impact assessment should include various sustainability assessments as well as taking into account the issues discussed below:

1. Environmental Risk Assessment

A risk assessment is used as a diagnostic tool for identifying business processes and products that pose environmental risks. It’s important that organizations conduct risk assessments periodically as they can change over time as new technology becomes available and as government policies change – these changes may make some products and services more desirable than others.

2. Environmental Management System

An environmental management system (EMS) refers to a set of processes put in place by an organization designed to achieve continuous improvement in its environmental performance. An EMS is a set of business processes including planning, monitoring, control, improvement, and review which ensure an organization’s objectives are met – in this case, the objective is to reduce its environmental impact.

3. Environmental Management Framework

An environmental management framework refers to a set of policies and procedures that provide a framework for an organization’s EMS. For example, a set of policies and procedures could include a zero-waste goal by a certain date.

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Pharmaceutical industry can change its practices to manage pharmaceuticals in a more ecofriendly manner.

4. Environmental Performance Indicators

Environmental performance indicators are used to measure an organization’s environmental performance. Examples of indicators include greenhouse gas emissions per unit produced or per employee, the number of incidents recorded per year, and so on. In more detail, an environmental performance indicator measures an organization’s performance in relation to a specific objective such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions per unit produced.

The Bottom Line

Overall, sustainability in healthcare is a hot topic that has been discussed for some time now. Many healthcare organizations have already made changes to their working practices in order to become more sustainable – but there’s still a long way to go. There are many ways that healthcare professionals can implement changes to their existing working practices in order to become more sustainable. However, it takes time and effort to achieve the desired results – sometimes, it can feel like an uphill battle.

At the same time, there is the need to consider the financial impact both of the current processes and of any changes that can be made to them in order to reach sustainability goals.

About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the CEO of BioEnergy Consult, and an international consultant, advisor and trainer with expertise in waste management, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, environment protection and resource conservation. His geographical areas of focus include Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biogas technology, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, recycling and waste management. Salman has participated in numerous national and international conferences all over the world. He is a prolific environmental journalist, and has authored more than 300 articles in reputed journals, magazines and websites. In addition, he is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability through his blogs and portals. Salman can be reached at salman@bioenergyconsult.com or salman@cleantechloops.com.
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