Sustainability in the context of healthcare means organising patient care, surgeries, medical dispensation and allied fields of diagnostics and research in a manner that does not compromise the resources of Mother Earth that truly belong to our future generations.
Need for sustainable innovations in healthcare
We need to change the paradigm with innovations because we must understand that healthcare is a service and resource-intensive behemoth that requires an incredible usage of land, human capital, energy, and natural resources. To give an example, it is estimated that the healthcare sectors of the United States, Australia, the UK, and Canada together emit 748 million metric tonnes of Green House Gases (GHGs) annually, and if each of these sectors were nations, they would rank the seventh highest in the world for GHG emissions. This is just one aspect of the epic waste and conservation story.
From radiation emission in diagnostic machines, electrical energy consumption, the generation of organic and inorganic wastage, fossil fuel consumption and several other factors involved in the mammoth supply chain network of hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, the healthcare sector is an energy and resource-guzzling entity where sustainability seems only a small word to counter it all.
However, those who care about Mother Earth and the economic and environmental impact have been working behind the scenes in the last two decades to create a counter-story. The world has seen the invention, discovery, and application of many innovative healthcare advancements that are helping to reduce its economic, environmental and carbon footprint.
The top game changers in healthcare
Some of the most notable innovations already in use are the extensive application of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning that not only plays a pre-emptive role in predictive and preventive medicine but also streamlines other variables such as bed management, electronic medical records, organising surgeries and dispensing medicines efficiently. In the last few years, the introduction of nanomedicine, which focuses on the supramolecules to provide more efficacious treatment of diseases, has been a harbinger of good news on the treatment front.
One of the most efficient innovations that has played a role in increasing remote patient consultation is telemedicine. This has been made possible by harnessing the power of virtual reality and the Internet of Things (IoT). These have also helped augment robotic surgeries, enabling skilled surgeons to conduct surgeries remotely. Added to this is 3D printing, which has automated the production of medicines, prostheses, and implants with great precision and at an incredible pace, thereby reducing the cost and energy required in mass production.
Additionally, the completion of the human genome mapping has helped healthcare gain insights into the origin and evolution of hereditary diseases. With the application of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) gene-editing technology, we now could potentially transform the treatment of killer diseases like cancer and other inherited conditions. This will help healthcare reduce the global burden of disease expenditure progressively.
On the clean energy front, many hospitals are now actively harnessing tapping into solar and wind power and using biofuel that has helped reduce carbon emissions. All of the innovations mentioned above are a few that have revolutionised healthcare. And this is only the tip of the iceberg as innovations continue in real-time.
A concerted effort
As the world continues to shrink to a compact global village, we must concede that healthcare transcends geographical borders, and we must strive to create a counter-narrative in conservation and reduction of emissions in this sector. Healthcare is mainly made of dedicated warriors who save and conserve humanity, and we cannot afford to have the saviours turn to tormentors. Therefore, sustainability begins from here. Learning to scale the healthcare model to accommodate and fit humanity while decreasing wastage and emission is the only way forward. Let us all join hands and put together our minds to defeat the greatest challenge of our times – save health and lives but also conserve the resources and the planet.
References available on request.
Dr. Azad Moopen is the Founder Chairman & Managing Director of Aster DM Healthcare.