Telemedicine Holds Potential to Help Climate Change
Center for Connected Health Policy
May 4, 2021
MobiHealth News is shining the light on a much-overlooked benefit of telemedicine: how it can help curb greenhouse gas emissions and thus help in the fight against climate change.
MobiHealth News is shining the light on a much-overlooked benefit of telemedicine: how it can help curb greenhouse gas emissions and thus help in the fight against climate change. The recent article highlights that the United States healthcare industry is a big contributor to carbon emissions, and although telemedicine doesn’t solve the problem, its increased use does lead the industry in the right direction. This has been proven in two research studies conducted on this very subject.
The first study, published in the journal, PLoS One explores the carbon footprint of telemedicine and found that replacing in-person visits with telemedicine resulted in 40-70 times decrease in carbon emissions. They note in their conclusion that for telemedicine to make a significant difference, a paradigm shift is necessary where telemedicine is regarded as an ordinary part of health care rather than exclusively for those who lack access due to geography.
The second study, conducted by the University of California Davis Health System, examined travel-related and environmental savings as a result of use of telemedicine appointments for outpatient specialty consultations at the university. They found that telemedicine consultations resulted in significant savings of total emissions and that their telemedicine program had a positive impact on environmental pollutants.
CCHP also previously published a catalogue of environmental impacts studies, which included several international studies looking at this same issue and coming to the same conclusion regarding telemedicine’s positive impact on carbon emissions in the healthcare sector.
As telehealth has become more widespread due to the COVID-19 public health emergency its not hard to imagine that telehealth will cement its place as a mainstream tool in healthcare as the authors in the PLoS study suggest. However, policy barriers have historically interrupted the growth of telehealth, and it is yet to be seen whether the end of COVID-19 will bring telehealth’s progress to a halt.
In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers found that as a whole, the temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during COVID-19 saw a decrease by as much as -26% on average, but note that the impact of 2020 annual emissions depends on government actions and economic incentives post-pandemic, which will shape the path forward for decades. It will be important as entities such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the congressional budget office, state governments and others conduct their analyses on cost estimates for telehealth that they factor in savings to travel costs incurred through the use of telehealth and the implications for the environment. To learn more, see the full mobihealth news article featuring this important issue.
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