The healthcare industry holds a great deal of responsibility. While its primary role is to ensure that patients receive the best possible medical attention, it also has to operate ethically. As such, like many other sectors, it is coming under increased scrutiny concerning its efforts in sustainability.
One of the ways hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices can make a serious impact on society is in their use of resources. On a day-to-day operating level, facilities’ commitment to sustainability has the potential to do more than make direct reductions on the business’ footprint. It also makes it simpler for other departments to adopt green behavior in their working practices.
Let’s take a closer look at where healthcare resource managers can influence the adoption of sustainable operations. What areas of focus can have immediate and long term benefits? What tools are currently available that can make the process both simple and effective?
One of the key resources in which medical facilities can make an impact is their use of paper. While it’s important to implement a recycling policy for the paper staff use, this still isn’t necessarily sustainable. Recycling can have a negative environmental impact due to fuel consumption utilized in the process. Therefore, it’s better to implement a regimen of avoiding using paper at all.
One green policy that most offices can follow is typing rather than writing. Tablets are fast becoming an affordable and common presence in medical facilities. Resource managers should not only make investments in these technologies but also encourage their use for taking patient notes. They also serve a practical purpose too in that this helps to ensure that up-to-date patient data is sharable and immediately available to all staff across cloud platforms.
In addition to the environmental benefits, paperless records can also assist your ethical responsibilities. Using only digital record keeping can reduce the risk of patient data exposure due to misplaced files. That said, going paperless also requires additional attention to cybersecurity. As part of sustainable efforts, resource managers need to also prevent unauthorized access to digital records.
Most electronic health record (EHR) platforms today are Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant. But you should also work with your facility’s information technology (IT) department to also make your systems more robust. Provide staff with policies and education regarding safe online behavior, and limit the number of home devices being used on professional networks.
Sustainable consumption isn’t always about the physical resources that facilities use. It also involves the underlying infrastructure that keeps the hospital or clinic operational. Hospitals require significant amounts of electricity to run. As a result, there should be a focus on reducing wasteful energy practices. It’s important to note that energy efficiency isn’t only sustainable on an environmental level; it also contributes to improvements in the economic efficiency of the facility as a part of wider cost-saving programs. This in turn helps to ensure a greater percentage of financial resources can be directed toward care, and invested in positive patient outcomes.
Approaches to energy efficiency in healthcare facilities can include:
- Invest in equipment that is rated for energy efficiency. This doesn’t just have to be the larger medical devices; check that computers and general office equipment pertain to Energy Star standards. Even seemingly innocuous items such as examination lamps and batteries used in wearable patient monitoring are available in efficient forms.
- Adopt energy-efficient policies for behavior. A lot of attention is currently directed toward improving the use of energy-intensive radiography devices such as computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. Where possible ensure that staff turn off devices rather than leave them in idle or standby modes. Make lights are turned off in unoccupied areas.
- When adding new buildings to your medical campus, or undertaking renovation work, arrange for it to be designed for energy efficiency. Use eco-friendly building materials that are designed to improve long term consumption, such as insulated concrete forms. Investigate the potential of fitting solar panels, along with any government energy grants and loans that can help reduce the initial costs involved.
To ensure a truly sustainable approach, healthcare resource managers can’t operate in a void. You also need to pay close attention to the activities of your partner businesses. The commitment your facility makes toward reducing its impact on the planet is limited if you don’t also make certain that you’re only developing relationships with those who share your high standards.
This begins with having a meaningful dialogue with your partners from the outset. Don’t limit your discussions to whether their products are sustainable; talk about their business as a whole. Make it part of your inquiries for any new suppliers, but also reach out to your existing partners. Ask them to provide you with details of their green policies, the technology they use, and indeed their relationships with their own partners and suppliers. This shouldn’t be a one-off, either; it should be a topic of conversation a couple of times a year.
Raw materials are also important when making decisions about your partnerships with suppliers. Ask them where they obtain their materials, and what measures are in place to ensure these are sustainably sourced. This can also give you vital information about the safety of products, too. Talcum powder, an item that was used widely and seemed harmless, has been discovered to be a potential cause of mesothelioma due to its close mineral proximity to sources of asbestos. The fact that the talc can be contaminated with asbestos during the mining process is a key example of just how vital it is to gain an understanding of suppliers’ processes. It’s not just an ecological imperative, it’s a health issue too.
Robust healthcare resource management can not only reduce costs to a medical facility, but it can also make a positive impact on our planet. By taking the time to implement paperless policies, and adopting energy-efficient equipment and processes, managers can reduce their facility’s damage to the environment. This, alongside cultivating ethical partner relationships help to ensure an ongoing commitment to sustainability and patient health.
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