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Sustainable healthcare Q2 2022

Delivering care more sustainably: how technology can be utilised

iStock / Getty Images Plus / UnitoneVector

Addie MacGregor

Sustainability Executive, ABHI

Health tech is a major contributor to sustaining and saving lives, providing products from medical consumables to orthopaedic implants, surgical robots and digitally enhanced technologies.

The health tech industry has unique barriers in reaching its sustainability targets, with patient safety a priority that can never be compromised. For example, contaminated needles used in hospitals cannot be recycled in the same way as a plastic bottle can. Given the complex design of many products, there are distinctive challenges when addressing this critical agenda.

Utilising technology in sustainability

That said, health tech can be a great vehicle for delivering care more sustainably, as exemplified throughout the pandemic, where apps monitored cases and remote triage became the norm to manage attendance to a healthcare facility. Using technology to change the patient pathway can therefore save a wealth of resources, including the fuel patients use to travel to hospital, as well as the devices and energy involved in managing hospital admissions. Indeed, the most sustainable hospital stay is the one that does not happen.

This is not about replacing doctors with digital tools, but rather, avoiding unnecessary visits to a hospital through technology utilisation, and in turn supporting our healthcare workforce to free-up their time to focus more on each patient interaction and complex cases. This way, we can achieve sustainability goals and improve healthcare outcomes.

Indeed, the most sustainable hospital stay is the one that does not happen.

Improving early diagnosis

Early diagnosis is also key. The sooner a patient is diagnosed, the sooner they can be treated and the better the outcome. A cancer patient diagnosed at stage one, rather than stage four, for example, would not only experience a greater chance of survival, but the amount of electricity, fuel, medical devices and medicine will be greatly reduced, all aiding more sustainable care.

Minimally invasive procedures, such as laparoscopy, can also be utilised to deliver surgery in a targeted way, lowering costs to the healthcare system as patients have a reduced hospital stay, recover quicker and have an overall better experience.

Creating circular product lifecycles

Health tech suppliers are making impressive advances. From the materials used in their technologies, to how they can be recycled and reused safely, suppliers are designing product life cycles with circularity in mind. At ABHI, we have also produced a Sustainability Framework for Action for our members to aid their own sustainability journey.

The levels of innovation within the sector are already inspiring, but there are still many advancements to be made. Health tech can be used to make healthcare better for both the patient and the planet.

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