by Elisa Thelvarik

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$$ \substack{ \colorbox{pink}{\tiny \color{pink}a\hspace{7em}}\\[-0.7em] \colorbox{FAE6FA}{\normalsize\color{FAE6FA}a\hspace{11em}}\\[-0.8 em] \normalsize\color {black} \text{Reflection on Healthcare} } $$

This issue of Etherealism is exploring different industries of sustainability. I am a student nurse in my first year of nursing school, so healthcare has always been the center of attention for me. As an active entity in the healthcare industry and Etherealism, I wondered, “Huh…is the healthcare industry sustainable?”

For instance, if you come into a patient's room with supplies from the supply room, you cannot put them back even if you do not use them. It also cannot be utilized for another patient since it was exposed to other bacteria, so it ends up as wasted inventory. This practice is standard across all healthcare disciplines to ensure safe and sanitary practices are constantly in place in the hospital/clinic's workflow. Another example is the waste of personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and gowns. Out of all the equipment mentioned above, disposable masks carry the biggest amount of waste, but is there a more sustainable option when hospitals are fighting for masks altogether?

[Description: Podcast on Healthcare Sustainability]

[Description: Podcast on Healthcare Sustainability]

Well, it turns out that I'm not the first person who had this thought because as I was researching, I found this podcast from The Economist.

Image Credit
[Description: Doctor taking a woman's blood pressure and nurse writing on a clip board]

Image Credit [Description: Doctor taking a woman's blood pressure and nurse writing on a clip board]

$$ \substack{ \colorbox{pink}{\tiny \color{pink}a\hspace{7em}}\\[-0.7em] \colorbox{FAE6FA}{\normalsize\color{FAE6FA}a\hspace{6em}}\\[-0.8 em] \normalsize\color {black} \text{The Lowdown} } $$

In this episode of the Asia Perspectives Podcast, Jason Wincuinas speaks to Rohit Sahgal, EIU's Principal for global health in Asia, about the sustainability of healthcare ecosystems.

$$ \substack{ \colorbox{pink}{\tiny \color{pink}a\hspace{7em}}\\[-0.7em] \colorbox{FAE6FA}{\normalsize\color{FAE6FA}a\hspace{6em}}\\[-0.8 em] \normalsize\color {black} \text{A Broad Start} } $$

Even understanding the most significant sustainability challenges in healthcare is difficult because of the nature of healthcare. Many sustainability issues are interrelated in the complexities of each other. These instances happen in private and public healthcare in any nation (emerging, developing, and underdeveloped). There can be a large deviation between private and public healthcare, but they still coincide with inefficiency and massive waste creation dilemmas.

Think about an average hospital:

  1. It is a power drainer: Everything is always on - lighting, water, laundry, sterilization procedures, radiology, surgical procedure preparations, etc.
  2. It must be constantly stocked and prepared - not having enough supplies can lead to the detriment of thousands of patients.
  3. It is a tight-knit system: The waste of even one inventory's worth of medical supplies can mean a shortage and decreased healthcare quality.

However, the hospital is just the surface of the healthcare sustainability predicament. Think about this:

How do products like surgical gowns, gloves, and gauze get there?

What about parking and infrastructure? Maintenance of these areas is still important to the entire ecosystem of healthcare.

All these elements come together to create a necessary resource for society.

$$ \substack{ \colorbox{pink}{\tiny \color{pink}a\hspace{7em}}\\[-0.7em] \colorbox{FAE6FA}{\normalsize\color{FAE6FA}a\hspace{7em}}\\[-0.8 em] \normalsize\color {black} \text{A Societal Issue} } $$

During the interview, they discussed the idea of healthcare not just being an issue for hospitals or healthcare facilities, but a societal issue.

Think of the number of components that go into widespread healthcare. Shouldn't everyone have to be involved?

At this point in time, I wish to introduce a concept deeply rooted into my nursing curriculum: Healthy People.

Healthy People is a set of public health objectives that is determined every 10 years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People identifies public health priorities to help individuals, organizations, and communities across the United States improve general health and well-being.

<aside> 💡 Learn more about Healthy People 2030 here.


I bring this to light because there has been a shift in healthcare from a curative model to a preventative model.

When healthcare focuses on primary prevention such as immunizations and better access to healthcare, emphasizing exercise and leaving the sedentary life, it helps alleviate the sustainability problem since it lowers the acuity of care. This means facilitating fewer hospital visits, less travel time for patients, and reduced medical supply demand.

$$ \substack{ \colorbox{pink}{\tiny \color{pink}a\hspace{7em}}\\[-0.7em] \colorbox{FAE6FA}{\normalsize\color{FAE6FA}a\hspace{11.5em}}\\[-0.8 em] \normalsize\color {black} \text{Efficiency vs Sustainability} } $$

Efficiency and sustainability are at odds with each other. With each "cut" made for sustainability, there seems to be a cost at the expense of efficiency. That begs the question: Where do we draw the line?

Healthcare is 24/7. There is no standstill, so that means that efficiency is a significant factor of health. However, with healthcare being a constant, there is a range of available solutions and resources to sustain that system. These sustainable solutions would include controlling waste, technological advances, and so much more.

Image Credit
[Description: Doctor listening to patient with a stethoscope]

Image Credit [Description: Doctor listening to patient with a stethoscope]

$$ \substack{ \colorbox{pink}{\tiny \color{pink}a\hspace{7em}}\\[-0.7em] \colorbox{FAE6FA}{\normalsize\color{FAE6FA}a\hspace{8em}}\\[-0.8 em] \normalsize\color {black} \text{Adopt and Adapt!} } $$