4 ways radiology can reduce its environmental impact

By Kate Madden Yee, AuntMinnie.com staff writer

November 21, 2022 -- The healthcare enterprise produces roughly 10% of total carbon emissions in the U.S., and radiology is considered a big contributor to this, due to use of high energy-consuming equipment and interventional procedure waste.

In a distressing cycle, climate change from greenhouse gases affects the environment, which in turn affects human health, which then prompts further use of emission-producing healthcare resources, a team led by Dr. Sean Woolen of the University of California, San Francisco wrote in commentary published November 16 in Academic Radiology.

"As evidence of the relationship between human activity, climate change, and health continues to accumulate, the urgency for all sectors, including healthcare, to curb emissions has become clear," the team wrote.

Climate change resulting from greenhouse gas emissions is "one of the great public health concerns of our time," the team wrote, and there are at least three ways radiology contributes to the problem: through interventional radiology waste (single-use products and electricity); diagnostic imaging waste (also electricity, for imaging equipment); and conference waste (airplane travel).

Diagnostic and interventional radiologists in particular are positioned to take the lead in reducing the specialty's carbon footprint, Woolen and colleagues wrote. They outlined four actions radiology can take the following:

  1. Make sustainability a quality measure. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) outlines six quality measures in the healthcare arena: Care must be safe, efficient, effective, timely, equitable, and patient-centered. Adding sustainability to the mix is key, according to the team. "National and international medical organizations should acknowledge the importance of sustainability and include it as a seventh quality aim," the authors wrote.
  2. Use a standard sustainability measure. "The Environmental Protection Agency has online calculators to convert several forms of waste such as energy and weight of different types of solid waste to CO2eq," the authors noted.
  3. Implement quality improvement strategies. "The literature is abundant with educational reviews detailing information for project evaluation and selection, role assignment, planning, improvement methods, and sustaining improvement in radiology," Woolen's group wrote.
  4. Engage stakeholders. "Sustainable healthcare initiatives are complex and require multiple stakeholders to collaborate on investigations and solutions," the team explained.

Radiology is just at the beginning of its effort to mitigate carbon emissions, and the task will require perseverance, according to the authors.

"Ultimately, it will take collaboration and innovation from a large group of individuals on a local, national, and international level to create a future of ecofriendly radiology and medicine," they concluded.


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