As doctors and healthcare researchers argue in a new paper on the subject -- published over the weekend in the journal JAMA -- industry leaders must do more to combat carbon emissions and pollution.
The healthcare industry is tasked with responding to many of the most immediate effects of climate change and pollution. An increase in drought conditions, high temperatures and extreme weather will continue to tax emergency and healthcare services in the years to come.
The healthcare industry in the U.S. is also huge. Last year, the U.S. spent 17.9 percent of its gross domestic product on health care.
"The healthcare industry is responsible for responding to the many of the most dangerous effects of pollution and climate change, and yet it is a significant source of greenhouse gases and other deadly environmental emissions itself," Dr. Jodi Sherman, associate professor of anesthesiology at the Yale School of Medicine, said in a news release. "We must act to reduce waste and prevent pollution -- work that is crucial to protecting public health and improving patient safety, which is at the heart of everything we do. "
The newly published paper calls on hospital administrators, regulatory bodies, policymakers and leaders from healthcare-related industries to develop and execute detailed plans for making the industry more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Air pollution is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. Some studies suggest air pollution kills upwards of several million each year in the U.S. But studies suggest regulations to curb pollution and boost air quality really do work and save lives.
Authors of the latest study call for industry leaders to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the healthcare system to identify how the industry depletes vital natural resources and produces toxic emissions. Researchers hope such an analysis would identify where sustainability efforts would have the greatest impact.
Sherman and her colleagues also want to see international standards for measuring the healthcare industry's environmental impact.
"Everything we do must factor in public health considerations," Sherman said. "Patient care and public health go hand in hand. We can no longer make patient care and regulatory decisions in silos without considering the implications on public health."