The My City-Lab Talk Series meeting “A greener health: how to foster environmental sustainability in health care” took place on May 14th, 2019. The event was co-hosted by the My City-Lab and Metrolab Brussels projects, both funded by the Brussels Capital Region through its ERDF program. The aim was to discuss to what extent healthcare systems could reduce their environmental footprint, without affecting delivery and quality of care.
As the third largest employer worldwide and a major consumer of resources, health care has the potential to make a significant impact in sustainability strategies. Health care is the only sector generating all existing classes of waste, with 20% being dangerous, infectious, toxic or radioactive in nature. As pointed out by the Moderator of the debate, Bernard Gouget (IFCC – International Federation of Clinical Chemistry), sustainability is a key issue in the health care sector which needs to be addressed urgently to better cope with the challenges of the raising demand of care. Arianna Gamba, from Health Care Without Harm, stressed that behind environmental challenges, there are still big opportunities to drive to the health care sector in a more sustainable path. Health care industry is responsible for 5% of the global carbon footprint, which contradicts the nature of hospitals: saving lives. By polluting, health care settings contribute to a lower quality of life among their patients and society as a whole. Measures like substituting toxic chemicals and improving the transportation system around hospitals can be good solutions to reduce pollution. Additionally, the supply chain of purchased goods and services is estimated to contribute to two-thirds of hospitals’ carbon footprint: European health systems face the challenges to implement sustainable procurement policies and achieve a more sustainable organisation. Within the scope, it is worth mentioning that one of the barriers is that recycling plants often do not accept uncontaminated hospital residues (e.g. clean plastic packaging) since they treat it as hazardous medical waste. There is a need to raise awareness about sustainability among the healthcare sector and its key stakeholders to reduce its environmental footprint.
During the debate, Michele Calabrò (European Health Management Association) emphasised the importance of the topic for the industry workers, who are longing for implementing innovative solutions with a long-term approach. Mr Calabrò also stressed sustainability is very much linked to eHealth, which can bring efficiency to the system while reducing resources’ surplus along with their carbon footprint. Hence, education and digital literacy are key to implement a sustainable approach to care, by educating people in changing their mindset and focus on quality rather than cost, looking more at the long-term benefits.
Still on digitalisation, the Coordinator of City-Labs project, Damien Gruson, highlighted that productive cities are green and innovative. Prevention and education can be used by means of digitalisation to reduce the size of the carbon footprint, providing an opportunity for efficiency. Mr Gruson proposed as a possible solution new tools to integrate and track data on hospital waste. Additionally, by having a qualitative data approach, AI solutions could be used to define patients experience to make heath care delivery more efficient: technology can be used specially to not overuse the services and avoid repetitive tests.
Maguelone Vignes (Metrolab Brussels) made an important connection to primary care approach. She stressed that a part of the solution could be reintegrating health care facilities in the city, specially by fostering primary care in order to avoid unnecessary hospitalisations, to ultimately benefit the patients and saving unnecessary resources and costs. Primary care centres are more efficient since they focus on prevention rather than reacting when a patient is already ill.
Health care settings have a major role to play in reducing environmental impact by using their resources more efficiently, designing ‘greener’ buildings, fostering digitalisation and promoting primary care. Projects such as My City-Lab and Metrolab Brussels aimed at creating effective and sustainable settings to make this happen, and ultimately putting citizens at the core of the health care settings of the future.
Please click here to see the pictures of the event.
My City-Lab is a project financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) which aims to integrating the innovation of laboratory medicine and mobile health. The scope of the project is to facilitate access to laboratory tests as part of a collaborative approach to ambulatory care of a chronically ill individual, as well as to contribute to the dynamic monitoring of patients with chronic diseases, always fostering sustainability.
Metrolab Brussels (MLB) is a trans-disciplinary and inter-university laboratory for applied and critical urban research, funded by the Brussels Capital Region through its ERDF program (2014-2020). The action of MLB consists in the design, implementation and coordination of a dozen of research projects, all directed towards a single public policy, the ERDF-Brussels program. Urban ecology is one of the topics covered by the project, a key element for city’s growth and citizens’ wellbeing.