In a recent blog, we discussed how healthcare providers are designing and building new smart hospitals using technology as the fourth utility to securely connect clinical, operational, and business systems, applications, devices, users, and data. Once connected, these systems can be programmed to work together to deliver improved workflows and multiple organizational goals, including business resilience, operational efficiency, safety, and advanced physician, patient, and guest experience.

Healthcare providers also use smart hospitals, telehealth, and virtual care to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions, helping them achieve their environmental and sustainable goals.

Healthcare sustainability

At the recent UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, a team of 50 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada, pledged to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems. These countries have signed the World Health Organization (WHO) COP26 Health Program, which seeks a healthcare future that is resilient to the growing effects of climate change, extreme weather events and diseases related to air pollution and global warming. These countries are committed to reducing the impact of their health systems on CO2 emissions and climate change. The dual goals of a climate-resilient and low-carbon health system were emphasized in an open letter from more than 450 healthcare providers representing more than 46 million healthcare workers worldwide. The group warns that the climate crisis is the single biggest health threat facing humanity and calls on world leaders to take action on climate change.

Building operations account for 70% of electricity costs and about 30% of CO2 emissions. Building construction and materials account for a further 11% of CO2 emissions.

As an industry, healthcare is responsible for 4.4-4.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. healthcare system is responsible for about a quarter of these emissions, a statistic that increased 6% between 2010 and 2018. These emissions contribute to climate change and indirectly reduce health outcomes.

Healthcare providers are planning to build new buildings or want to rehabilitate existing ones because their buildings consume less energy and contribute to national, state and local carbon reduction goals.

Sustainability and decarbonization with a smart hospital

Since systems and devices are connected and protected using a fourth utility, they can be powered by a low voltage 90 watt universal power over Ethernet (UPOE +), providing low power consumption and low CO2 emissions.

A converted smart building architecture can power multiple building systems and devices, including bedside medical devices, LED lights, motorized window shades, HVAC, building management systems, entry systems, elevators and alarm systems. As a result, energy consumption can be reduced by 45% or more, resulting in a direct reduction of 24 metric tons of CO2 emissions (MTCO2e) annually. Additional energy savings and reductions of up to 11 MTCO2e are possible through fewer materials used in building construction. Instead, this energy saving and durability can be used to get LEED and WELL certification as well as stimulus and energy efficiency grants.

Take LED lighting as an example: As discussed in a recent Smart Hospital blog, LED lighting can provide improved patient and physician experience and clinical results – using programmability and circadian rhythm lighting. POE LED lighting also contributes significantly to lower operating costs and reduced CO2 emissions – 3-6% less energy dissipation than AC LEDs and 8% lower ownership costs (27% lower than AC fluorescent).

A smart hospital can use the fourth utility to provide reduced cost and sustainability, improved security, and data-driven clinical workflow.

Telehealth and Virtual Care: A Bridge of Improved Access to Care and Sustainability

By 2020, the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest mental health education hospital, has increased the delivery of virtual care for mental health visits by about 750% a month. This transfer enables greater flexibility in appointment and follow-up schedules, shorter waiting times and greater accessibility by removing barriers to access, especially for patients in rural and remote areas (including remote indigenous communities).

In addition to these benefits, telehealth has been shown to reduce carbon emissions as a result of less car travel. A recent study published in the Journal of Climate Change and Health found that carbon emissions from patient travel for primary care, special care and mental health visits in Washington and Oregon decreased by 46% between 2019 and 2020, a change from personal visits to virtual care. A study of 14 research reports in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, Portugal and Sweden found that virtual care and telehealth counseling saved carbon emissions between 0.70-372 kg CO.2e per suggestion, mostly due to less travel. These studies further show that telehealth can play a role in climate resilience business-related resilience, allowing patient counseling to continue in the event of extreme weather events.

As patients and physicians receive telehealth and virtual care, energy costs and carbon emissions will be dramatically reduced with improved accessibility, flexibility and convenience.

As we work with healthcare providers and partners to help design and build smart hospitals, telehealth and virtual care, we see the potential to achieve multiple organizational goals while providing them with improved energy efficiency, carbon reduction and sustainability. These results will help healthcare providers meet emissions targets and contribute to the objectives set out in the COP26 healthcare program.

Whether your healthcare organization wants to achieve a sustainable goal, Cisco can help you build bridges to get there.

For more information on smart and sustainable hospitals, please visit the following resources:

This post was co-authored by Shawn Caragata and Ross Sweetzi.

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