There are a hundred ways any given healthcare facility can reduce their impact on the environment and to decrease wastefulness.
Going green isn’t just about recycling: almost every aspect of healthcare and hospital life can be examined and augmented.
It isn’t just about saving the environment, either. It’s far more complicated than that. A strong green initiative reduces wastefulness, increases efficiency, often aids the budget in the long-term, and in general, provides a healthier place for clinicians to work and for patients to convalesce.
There are a hundred ways any given healthcare facility can reduce their impact on the environment and to decrease wastefulness. Take a look at just a few of these ideas and see if they can make a change in your hospital.
1. Use Less Paper
With charts, admission forms, discharge papers, insurance forms, patient surveys, medical histories, prescription writs, patient instructions, FAQs, doctor’s order, and a thousand other slips of paper flying around a hospital, it’s a wonder the entire rainforest hasn’t already been eaten up by healthcare alone.
A first easy step for going paperless is to deploy enough computers on wheels or medical tablets that much of the everyday paperwork doesn’t have to exist at all. If a patient can sign a consent form on a tablet (which can then be immediately, securely backed up and sent wherever it needs to go), or a doctor can send instructions right to the patient’s email. Even something as benign as taking food order, typically a paper process, can be taken on a tablet or entered directly into a bedside patient infotainment system.
Of course, laws, traditions, and regulations mean that paper isn’t going to 100% go away overnight. However, hospitals can reduce paper waste very simply by looking into paper-shredding companies that are committed to recycling all of the shredded documents. Companies like Iron Mountain Shredding have been known to keep half a billion tons of paper out of landfills every year.
Trafficking with a pro-environment shredding company can mitigate much of the damage from standard operations in a hospital, ensuring that the paper pulp gets recycled back into use (and also ensuring that the sensitive information therein is destroyed).
2. Research the Manufacturer of Your Medical Computers
Since we’re talking about embracing computers more (and giving paper the ‘ole heave-ho), consider too how the devices you bring in to the hospital affect the environment as well.
It may take a little research, but some medical computer companies will have a page on their website that outlines the environmental practices they ascribe to when manufacturing their devices. Before ordering units from a company, or deciding what company to purchase units from, check for their environmental compliance.
Packaging materials should be made from recyclable materials, and the company should have a robust policy of refurbishment and trade-ins to facilitate PC recycling.
Companies like Cybernet Manufacturing are also part of the EPEAT Program, which is put together by the Green Electronics Council to create a list of safe manufacturing criteria. Basically, it’s a joint venture between the government and industry that ensures that certified electronics are made of non-toxic materials, stay environmentally safe throughout their life cycle, are able to be recycled, and are at least partially constructed from recyclable materials.
Receiving a “bronze” certification is good, but products that make “silver” or “gold” are even more compliant and green.
3. Keep Building Green
Going green in healthcare can start from literally the ground up. The building itself can be built with more energy efficient standards and using more environmentally friendly materials.
Of course, that’s only helpful information if you’re currently constructing (or about to construct) a new facility. What about old or existing buildings? Can they be repaired, retrofitted, or redesigned into something that will not only make a patient’s stay more pleasant but actually reduce waste?
LEED building certification, for instance, is designed to help both new and existing buildings find out how to operate more efficiency (and to be rewarded with certification for doing so).
However, even small changes can have noticeable effects. Creating a sustainable roof garden for a hospital can reduce the need for AC in warmer months. A layer of trees, bushes, flowers, or other vegetation not only absorbs sunlight that would otherwise be baking into the roof, but it also removes heat from the air through the process of evapotranspiration.
4. Conserve Water and Power with Minor Upgrades
Healthcare facilities can conserve water and power through a few small changes and policy alterations, which can have an enormous impact in the long run.
Power bills hardly come cheap for hospitals, which are about as heavily dependent on electricity as any building in the world. And while water costs seldom hurt the bottom line, in places of drought or water scarcity it becomes doubly important to be mindful of waste.
Electricity can be saved through a myriad of ways. Low-energy medical computers not only pull less power from the beginning, but they also tend to get less hot, which means they don’t strain the air conditioner too much.
The lighting in hospitals is easy to overlook: even something as simple as replacing old lighting units with new ones that run off LEDs can save loads of energy.
Having an HVAC tech occasionally come through and inspect the system and ductwork, even when there isn’t an immediate maintenance need, can help find inefficiencies in the system that could save a ton of money and power in the long run.
As for water, consider upgrading dishwashers, toilets, and other water-based appliances that may not be operating under modern conservation standards. Medical and therapy devices like whirlpools and linear accelerators use a great deal of water: have them inspected regularly for leaks, and replace them with more efficient models whenever possible.
5. Craft a Sustainable Supply Chain
The supply chain of any healthcare facility can be a tricky, multi-headed hydra. Everything from drugs, equipment, linens, food, plastics, tools, and disposables are coming into the hospital or doctor’s office at any given time. While modern infrastructure has made this all pretty seamless, there’s no denying that every vehicle in the chain uses a great deal of fuel to transport that product.
In many ways, a tight system of organization is the most effective way to ensure that shipments are bunched together (to decrease unnecessary fuel use) and that the right equipment and supplies are being ordered (to prevent waste or returns).
A strong asset-tracking strategy goes a LONG way toward maximizing organizational efficiency. Medical tablets with built-in barcode scanners and RFID readers, combined with a good management system, can be used to keep a living, breathing inventory document alive. The user simply scans inventory the moment it comes into the hospital when it goes to its storage area, and finally when it gets used. These tablets can then securely store this easily accessible information and create a database that not only lists amount and use but the actual location and need for replacement as well.
6. Haste Makes Waste
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities create a huge amount of waste, both in the form of standard trash, medical waste, packaging, and a dozen other easily-forgotten avenues. But a few simple changes can make a massive difference in such a large and constant stream of waste.
According to the World Health Organization, just over half of health facilities have “adequate systems in place for the safe disposal of healthcare waste.” And considering that the EPA puts medical waste at something close to 23 pounds per hospital bed per day, there is a shocking volume to deal with.
And when this waste is not properly disposed of, it leeches toxins and hazardous chemicals into landfills, groundwater, and even into the air depending on the chemical nature of the toxin in question.
The best way to improve the environment and to handle waste better is through proper and intensive staff training. Deploying frequent tests and reminder exams on devices like medical tablets and medical computers, and using them to track results and calculate when its time to re-up training, can save loads of time.
Deploying medical asset tracking techniques to keep track of inventory coming in and going out is also a great way to find discrepancies between input and output and to correct holes in the system.
Literally No Down-Side
The best part about deciding to go green with your hospital or facility is that there really is no downside.
Whether you’re deeply concerned about the polar ice caps, the local health of the community, or even just the bottom line, reducing waste and maximizing efficiency — while at the same time beautifying the surroundings inside and outside of the hospital — can make a huge difference.
To learn more about green policies and environmentally-friendly technology, contact Cybernet today.