The health care sector is responsible for 7% of Australia’s carbon emissions. This figure reflects the health system’s impact on the environment and the ripple effect on human health.
Pollution and climate change contribute to food insecurity, the rate and scale of natural disasters, and the contamination of air, water and natural resources. These, in turn, impact human health through malnutrition, chronic disease, injury or mortality from extreme weather conditions, vector-borne diseases, and mental health.
Considering the impact we have on planetary health is vital in addressing the long-term health of our patients and communities. Implementing sustainable solutions into practices has the additional benefits of reducing financial costs and improving staff wellbeing.
How to develop a more sustainable practice:
- Go paperless
- File documents securely online rather than printing
- Recycle any paper that you do use
- Adopt digital solutions
- E-referrals: Digitise referral pathways between your practice and specialists using MyHealthRecord to save on printing, faxing, postage and administration costs
- E-prescriptions: Offer electronic prescriptions for patients
- GoShare: Provide patients with digital information bundles rather than printouts
- Telehealth: Allow patients to reduce their travel carbon emissions with virtual appointments
- Sustainable transport
- Encourage staff to walk/cycle to improve their physical health and wellbeing
- Promote carpooling and public transport
- Offer remote working options and patient appointments where appropriate
- Create a culture of sustainability
- Adopt sustainability as a quality improvement measurement in your practice
- Implement a recycling program
- Establish Sustainability Champions as part of staff development
- Place plants in the office to reduce indoor air pollutants
- Encourage staff to use reusable water bottles and coffee cups
Our Practice Development Team encourages practices to consider sustainability as a development objective for their quality improvement plans. Those adopting greener policies observe the financial benefits and improvements to staff wellbeing and quality patient care from greater flexibility and streamlined processes.
Spotlight on a sustainable practice
Riverstone Family Medical Practice
Riverstone Family Medical Practice built its current home in 2015 with the future in mind. Their roof rainwater collection unit feeds into their sewage systems, and solar panels contribute to 50% of their energy usage. Individual air conditioning units in each consultation room means that only occupied rooms use energy, and staff are encouraged to open windows for ventilation where possible.
Sustainability is built into the practice’s culture, not just its’ architecture. Riverstone strives to be a paperless practice, with policies to shred and recycle any printed materials. They have returned their fax machine and are sending encrypted emails to patients to avoid unnecessary printouts. Practice staff are encouraged to walk or carpool to work, and the proximity of the station to the practice means that many patients choose to take public transport rather than drive to appointments. Patients also have the choice of telephone consultations.
Spotlight on a recycling champion
Kylie Foley, Hills Family General Practice
Since joining Hills Family General Practice in 2013, Kylie has established herself as a recycling activist. Despite only having access to a blue lid bin (cardboard and paper) on the premises, she has educated staff on sorting recyclables effectively. She takes any glass waste and soft plastics to recycling points herself. Kylie has also encouraged colleagues to use reusable products, with the practice purchasing a soda stream to prevent staff from buying drinks in plastic bottles.
The use of online health apps and telehealth appointments has provided patients with the flexibility for treatment in their homes and reduced carbon emissions from traffic congestion. Through a concerted effort to minimise printing, emailing rather than sending physical letters, and introducing e-scripts, the practice is now close to its objective of being a paperless practice.
‘Everything we throw away in landfill we are leaving for our grandchildren to inherit. We have a choice’ – Kylie Bowring.
Building a more sustainable WentWest
At WentWest, our Practice Development Team and Events Team have reduced the amount of paper printed for events. Printed feedback forms are now accessed online via QR codes, event booking forms and attendance sheets are digitised, and certificates are provided electronically to training attendees. The WentWest Finance Team now process invoices, purchase requests, and reports online, and an online contract management system has replaced paper-based processes in Commissioning. As a company, we have returned two of our big printers thanks to collective efforts to shift towards paperless processes.
The challenges of working remotely due to COVID-19 also allowed us to rethink the way we work with our partners. During the development of the Western Sydney Care Collective pathway, online tools allowed stakeholders to add ideas to a virtual mind map in real-time remotely. The pandemic worked as a proof of concept for virtual ways of working, transitioning from a COVID-19 work policy to a flexible working and wellbeing policy. Staff have the option to regularly work from home, helping cut our transport emissions from commuting.
We see the future of WentWest as a sustainable one and are taking further steps to ensure that our environmental strategy aligns with our vision of a healthier Western Sydney. Healthy environments produce healthier populations.
Planning for a greener future
Many practices and PHN’s were forced to develop online systems as a result of COVID-19. Now, as restrictions ease and more workplaces return to business-as-usual, we must not lose momentum in our shift towards sustainability. Digital technology has enabled us to support patients from their homes, securely share data, develop innovative models of care via virtual meetings, and exchange information electronically in ways never seen before.
It is the responsibility of all stakeholders across the health system to reduce waste, improve energy use, and develop innovative, eco-friendly, patient-centred models of care.
It is time to consider the health of our planet, not just our community.
The AMA believes that ‘achieving environmental sustainability in health care is essential to improving the way Australia’s health system functions. Read the AMA report on Environmental Sustainability in Health Care here: https://ama.com.au/position-statement/environmental-sustainability-health-care-2019