The Environmental Benefits of Telehealth and Remote Medicine

Healthcare is necessary for everyone, making it difficult to manage its environmental impact. The carbon footprint of healthcare study by Journal of Climate Change and Health found that modern medical treatment is carbon emission intensive, contributing 4.4% of global greenhouse gases. Much of these emissions are derived from the health supply chain, with 71% coming from producing, transporting, and disposing of health-related goods and services, whereas 17% of the sector’s worldwide footprint originates from healthcare facilities and vehicles. Although many medical processes can’t be reduced, a shift in certain healthcare aspects can reduce carbon emissions.

In recent years, telehealth and remote medicine have emerged as primary approaches for physicians and patients to practice social distancing during medical consultations. Considering how 85% of Americans do own a smartphone, digital appointments have not only become a patient-friendly solution to healthcare but also surprisingly a more eco-friendly option. In this article, we’ll describe the two ways telehealth and remote medicine can benefit the environment:

Reduces the need for travel

People with chronic health problems must constantly visit their healthcare providers for regular checkups. These appointments would mean a weekly commute, which uses more resources like fuel while making it inconvenient for the patient. By consulting with professionals through telehealth, consultations are more accessible and cheaper — all while reducing carbon emissions associated with travel, especially for those who live in far-flung areas. As such, remote health practitioners can meet patients more frequently without spending much time and resources. For example, Iowa’s remote nurse practitioners are licensed to provide high-quality healthcare to patients concerned with common chronic conditions, behavioral health, or even sexual health. Indeed, this is now the set-up for most care providers in the US. Patients can get almost the same level of healthcare from the comfort of their homes, reducing their negative environmental impact.

Eliminates the use of private clinic spaces

In addition to patients being able to save on travel, healthcare practitioners can also work remotely without needing to report to a private clinic space. A study led by Connecticut researchers on energy usage found that remote work may see changing energy consumption due to lower demand for travel and use of commercial buildings. In a healthcare setting, clinics and medical offices rely on air purifiers and air-conditioning, which use a lot of electricity. While home energy use would increase, the electricity saved is significant as physical offices often use heavier appliances in comparison. And if healthcare providers use clean energy systems such as solar installations, they can help lower overall energy-related emissions in the long term.

Although telehealth may not fully replace in-person diagnoses, it can be an excellent tool for both patients and healthcare staff who want the option to engage remotely. For people seeking to minimize their environmental impact while seeking in-person healthcare, you can choose more low-impact options like taking public transport. Our post “Should Everyone Travel by Public Transport in Order to Minimize Air Pollution?” shares how greener solutions can benefit our health overall, reducing our need to visit a healthcare professional. By opting for telehealth and remote medicine, people may still receive quality healthcare while positively impacting the environment.