According to Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit membership organization created on the principles of positive environmental stewardship and best practices in the healthcare sector, healthcare represents 18% of the U.S. economy, and 10% of the global economy. Healthcare undoubtedly has the ability to make a positive transformation on communities and commerce.
Defining Sustainable Health
The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) has the first recorded source of defining sustainable healthcare. In 2006, a UK Nutrition Practitioner documented the definition:
“A complex system of interacting approaches to the restoration, management and optimisation of human health that has an ecological base, that is environmentally, economically and socially viable indefinitely, that functions harmoniously both with the human body and the non-human environment, and which does not result in unfair or disproportionate impacts on any significant contributory element of the healthcare system.”
The general consensus is that a sustainable healthcare system can be accomplished by providing quality care to the public without fatiguing natural resources, or creating significant ecological impairment.
Three Tenants of Sustainable Health
The Sustainable Development Unit of the UK drilled down what sustainability in healthcare entails into three distinct buckets.
- Sustainable Health + Care
This section focuses awareness to ‘greening’ a variety of areas, such as waste, energy, water, and building infrastructures. The idea is to establish resources in healthcare that are:
- Efficient — offices and homes are well-insulated and therefore do not require as much fuel
- Responsibly Used — medical waste safely discarded to protect the community
- Sustainable Health Care
This bucket has a wider scope, but with a special healthcare emphasis. The focus includes delivering healthcare that achieves the Triple Aim — concurrently reaching financial, social and environmental ROI’s. It includes adapting how services are delivered, the promotion of preventive health, social responsibility from a corporate level, and growing models of care that are more sustainable.
- Sustainable Health + Well-being
The most extensive level resides within this bucket; its focus is on the sustainability of what effects overall health and well-being, such as farming and education.
Examples of Sustainable Health
A sustainable health system has a promise to improve the lives of those living in their community, both today and for future generations.
Here are some examples of how a sustainable infrastructure system would look:
- Improves the collective population vs. only the organization’s patient base.
- Implements progressive models of care delivery that are easier to access, less expensive, and more effective.
- Financially invests in the workforce through innovation technologies, ongoing education, and research that serves the patients and their communities.
- Measures results above and beyond clinical stats and outcomes, including subjective and anecdotal feedback from patients.
- Encourages patients and their loved ones to participate in their healthcare decisions by providing education and empowerment.
- Proactively spearheading transformation vs. passively making changes when things go wrong.
- Operates from a place of full transparency and accountability — both inside and outside the providers’ offices and ORs.
In our next blog post, we will explore the idea of environmental sustainability within healthcare.