Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Climate change and family physicians

At first glance, the topic of the cover article of AFP's August 1st issue, "Slowing Global Warming: Benefits for Patients and the Planet," might seem out of place in a journal that aims to provide practical clinical guidance for family physicians. Past summer-themed articles have included clinical reviews of heat-related illness, medical advice for commercial air travelers, and even health issues for surfers. By addressing climate change, AFP joins other widely read medical journals such as The Lancet and BMJ in recognizing the essential role that physicians can play in mitigating the negative impacts of environmental stress on patients' health.

After summarizing the serious potential health effects of climate change, Dr. Cindy Parker recommends that primary care clinicians counsel patients regarding two lifestyle changes that are likely to improve personal health as well as slow global warming: reducing meat consumption and increasing "active transportation" (substituting bicycling or walking for short car trips). In addition, physician practices and larger medical organizations can positively affect climate change by "going green":

Medical offices and hospitals can help by recycling; using recycled items and Energy Star certified appliances and computers; minimizing waste and waste transport by replacing single-use items with sterilizable or washable items; purchasing wind-generated electricity; and reducing energy use by turning off appliances, computers, and lights when not in use. In 2008, the U.S. health care sector spent $8.8 billion on energy to meet patient needs, not including the transportation of employees or patients to and from health care facilities, resulting in 8 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Robert Gould reviews several national and international initiatives that encourage hospitals and health systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including the Healthier Hospitals Initiative and Health Care Without Harm.