Health Information Technology Can Create Significant Environmental Benefit

Source: Kaiser Permanente

 An analysis by Kaiser Permanente published in the May issue of Health Affairs, estimates that electronic health records could lower carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 1.7 million tons across the entire U.S. population.

Do you realize how big the Kaiser Permanente system is? It serves more than 8.7 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia.

Kaiser Permanente also operates the world’s largest private electronic health record company, Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect®. Their analysis found that comprehensive use of health IT by Kaiser Permanente:

  • Avoided the use of 1,044 tons of paper for medical charts annually
  • Eliminated up to 92,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by replacing face-to-face patient visits (and the associated travel) with virtual visits
  • Avoided 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by filling prescriptions online
  • Reduced the use of toxic chemicals, such as silver nitrate and hydroquinone, by 33.3 tons by digitizing and archiving X-ray images and other scans
  • Resulted in a positive net effect on the environment despite increased energy use and additional waste from the use of personal computers

“At Kaiser Permanente, we are committed to improving the health of our members and the communities we serve, and that mission is advanced by our leadership in health IT,” said Jed Weissberg, MD, senior vice president, Hospitals, Quality and Care Delivery Experience, Kaiser Permanente. “Electronic health records can support a more environmentally sound health care sector if they are used to change workflows and care delivery, rather than just a substitute for paper records.”

Health care-related activities account for 8 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gases and 7 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions. Let’s also not forget hospitals use a ton of water!!

However we probably will hear more in the future because Kaiser Permanente is an innovator in environmental stewardship. We are talking “groundbreaking” energy conservation, sustainable design and construction practices.

Through its green building efforts, Kaiser Permanente saves more than $10 million per year and has eliminated the purchase and disposal of 40 tons of harmful chemicals in its facilities.

“There is a strong correlation between environmental health and the health of our communities. As health care providers, it is our responsibility to reduce our negative impact on the environment and ‘do no harm,’” said study co-author Kathy Gerwig, vice president for Workplace Safety and environmental stewardship officer at Kaiser Permanente. “The results of this study show that the health care sector is on the way to improving our environment through the broader adoption of electronic health records.”

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