Dr Pritesh Mistry
Fellow, Digital Technologies, The King’s Fund
We know digital will be an essential part of the future of the NHS, but it can also support the NHS to play a part in tackling climate change.
Over the past 10 years there have been multiple initiatives to increase how digital technologies are used for health care. The pace of change has been slow, but now the pandemic has accelerated the use of technology in the NHS.
While much of the focus has been on how technology can make health care more efficient, how can the NHS use digital technology to reduce its significant greenhouse gas emissions?
Reducing the need for travel
NHS emissions are equivalent to 4% of England’s total carbon footprint. Cutting emissions isn’t just good for the environment, but good for our health as well: it reduces the use of fossil fuels that cause air pollution, a source of ill health.
Digital can help patients by making it easier for those who live or work far from their GP or hospital to be able to access care at the touch of a button – avoiding journeys and the associated emissions while still receiving high-quality care.
Reducing the need for healthcare
As well as treating illness, the NHS is now charged with improving the health and wellbeing of local communities. Technology in the home, simple and sophisticated, can support the NHS in this aim, by informing both staff and patients themselves of how they are managing an ongoing illness, without having to be in the hospital.
Digital can help patients by making it easier for those who live or work far from their GP or hospital to be able to access care at the touch of a button.
Devices like wearables, data from our phones and information on the internet (e.g. NHS.net), all have a part to play in helping people understand how their lifestyle impacts their health and the positive ways to manage their wellbeing.
If successful, in the longer term they will moderate the demand growth through fewer hospital visits and treatments, decreasing the number of patient journeys, reducing use of hospital facilities and fewer surgical interventions with lower release of anaesthetic gases into the atmosphere (one hours use can be equivalent to a 200 mile car journey).
The NHS as a greener consumer
Digital devices and connectivity are an essential part of digital transformation but require mined materials and power for manufacture and use. All which contribute to climate change and ecological damage. The NHS can play a part in incentivising digital health companies to be transparent on their green credentials and instigate improvements to be greener.
Using tech to improve care by having more care closer to home, better management of health and wellbeing and being more selective when buying tech means better care and becoming a greener health care system.