Greening the Wheels of Healthcare

Greening the Wheels of Healthcare


Mar 25, 2022

Our series on ESG metrics has covered a range of approaches that help revisit various conventional yardsticks and examined how the healthcare industry can benefit from supply chain transitions and shifts in workplace safeguards and policies. We have also addressed the steps that numerous large-scale organizations have taken to improve facility-level sustainability achievements, with an eye on the future. However, our recent conversations with healthcare companies and policy practitioners have revealed that there continues to be ambiguity on how best to operationalize green principles in the day-to-day workings of facilities. Afterall, creating an optimization roadmap that fundamentally and rapidly reshapes organizational operations is a challenging task, and this is where we believe it is essential for us all to take a step back in the interest of coming back stronger.

Here’s a useful question to start us off: what are some examples of essential healthcare services that are trailing on green performance? The answers are numerous, and perhaps influenced heavily by our subjective vantage points – some of these include energy consumption, equipment maintenance, facility turnover statistics, waste disposal and recycling. But are we missing something here? Yes!

The first stage of accessing a healthcare service involves being present at a facility by travelling there.  If this sounds like an oversimplification, hear us out. Our research on the optimization of surgical procedures has forced us to pause and produce a detailed breakdown of the chain of events leading up to a hospital admission. Patients make use of different types of emergency mobility options and services to travel to hospitals. These include private and public ambulance companies as well as private vehicles. Depending on the severity of a situation, and the distance to the nearest in-network hospital, patients exhibit varying levels of reliance on existing EMS networks.

Ambulances are central to conversations about improving the efficiency and penetration of services, and an essential facet of ESG designs in healthcare.

The COVID-19 crisis placed immense pressure on our overburdened healthcare systems, and perhaps more specifically on the under-optimized EMS infrastructure across the country and the world. The recently concluded COP-26 climate change summit in Glasgow attempted to address this when it placed on display the National Health Service’s (NHS) newly developed fleet of hydrogen-electric ambulances. By comparison, the United States is in an arguably stronger position to implement the idea of EMS electrification owing to the extent to which innovation has played a role in advancing the landscape of national healthcare.

If the evidence from recent years is any indication of the directions we are moving in, it is impossible to dismiss electric mobility as a passing fad. It has become an important emblem of our ability to remain connected and sustainable in a networked present and future. And yet, most of these conversations have been slow to expand beyond their applicability to private journeys, and into the realm of public health and welfare. Granted, the solutions are not straightforward.

Companies like General Motors and Lightning eMotors have been involved in efforts to modify existing medium-duty vehicles into ambulances with the added benefit of electrification. Falck, a renowned emergency services company, has built pilot ambulances out of the Tesla Model X with critical additions in the form of internal heating systems. This simultaneously satisfies requirements of sustainability and uncompromised patient comfort, while solving a problem that has long been at the heart of the e-ambulance feasibility debate – preventing battery drain.

The public sector has not trailed far behind. Ohio, for instance, is in the process of exploring a system of leased EVs and dedicated microgrids for the operation of police vehicles with direct applications to emergency services. And national efforts to electrify the USPS are likely to have direct implications for the electrification of EMS vehicles.

If implemented in a feasible manner, the e-ambulance may also be the answer to the growing issue of idling emergency vehicles and their associated environmental and health impacts. Already, states like New York levy fines on idling emergency vehicles that range anywhere from $250-$15000. These are significant numbers for EMS operators of all sizes.

The key lesson from these diverse experiences is to draw up a set of electrification criteria that best satisfy the requirements of emergency medical services in ways that ensure uninterrupted operability and maximum network reach during crises. The health system determines our ability to adapt to the challenges posed by climate change in the present and future, where electrification ought to form a critical element of our mission statement as a growing community of healthcare professionals.

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