Telehealth may help reduce the carbon footprint of medicine

Health and Wellness Informatics News

A wide range of studies has been found recently that an increase in telehealth over the past six years has corresponded with the decrease in greenhouse gasses because of transportation.

A large-scale study has recently published that an increase in telehealth use is causing a dramatic decrease in carbon footprint. It is reducing the greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation.

This study is a collaboration among the researchers from the Northwest Permanente, Brigham, Harvard Medical School, and Women’s Hospital.  They have examined the six years of outpatient care at the Kaiser Permanente Northwest. It serves more than 600000 people in Oregon and Washington.

Before this pandemic, despite the rising visit volume, transportation-related emissions are declining due to telehealth.

The sector of healthcare is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. From 2010 to 2018, this emission has increased up to 6%. Many of the expansions directly arise from the facilities or the supply chain.  Patient transportation also plays a great role in carbon footprint creation.

To date, there are no large-scale studies based on the emission reductions due to the telehealth system. Nor any studies are showing the healthcare-related gas emission as the result of telehealth adoption.

The team members are looking back to the total number of in-person and telehealth visits. They have calculated the average distance between the home of the patient and their primary care clinic.

They are also assuming that the telehealth visits have replaced the in-person visit with the 1:1 ratio.  The outpatient visits have increased by 1 % per year through 2019. But it will decline by 46.2% in 2020.

Telehealth visits increased up to 106.5% in 2020. The researchers have calculated that the greenhouse gas emissions from the patient travel for transportation and primary care have fallen.  It had fallen from 1659 tons of Co2-eq to 10537 tons CO2-eq in 2020.

The environmental benefit of telehealth is not only limited to the reduction of the emission. Also, it is increasing the outpatient clinic space.

This effect on climate change is quite significant. The other preventive measures of the digital health tools can also help in the shorter term with the consequence of climate change.

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