A team led by Dr. Christina Sumner of Emory University wrote that if it is possible to reduce the resource footprint of radiology, it is up to leadership to lead these initiatives and raise awareness.
“There are many opportunities for radiologists and healthcare organizations to make more or less significant contributions to a greener environment,” Sumner et al. “The most impactful actions that can be taken are operational leadership within radiology practices.”
The US healthcare sector consumes significant amounts of water and energy, producing waste of all kinds, the researchers wrote. They cited a 2007 report indicating that the sector produced 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
The report identified hospital care, medical and clinical services, and prescription drugs as contributing factors. Heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems, food service, laundry, IT and capital equipment have also been previously identified as contributors to hospital emissions.
But what about radiology in particular? Sumner and his colleagues wanted to focus on the specialty and identify ways in which practices can reduce emissions, as well as educate colleagues and employees.
Reduction of energy consumption
While energy-efficient lighting systems are widely available commercially, HVAC systems can be modified to use less energy during off-hours, and monitors can be turned off when not in use. the team wrote that the path to greener radiology could be in the machines themselves.
The researchers cited a study reporting that over the course of a year, four MRI scanners and three CT scanners consume enough electricity to power a Swiss town of 852 people.
They wrote that radiologists can collaborate with vendors on sustainability strategies. For example, Arizona State University installed a 9.4 tesla MRI scanner in early 2022 that is cryogen-free. This eliminates the use of cryogenic liquid helium as a resource that is non-renewable and requires less hospital space.
Additionally, university-industry partnerships can be explored for such strategies. The University of California, San Francisco in 2021 has partnered with Siemens Healthineers to monitor the energy consumption of imaging devices. This aims to make room for carbon-neutral imaging services, as well as discover how low-field MRI imaging can be used.
The team also noted discussions among radiology officials about including a durability rating in the American College of Radiology’s suitability criteria. The group wrote that this could help promote imaging procedures with a lower environmental footprint when multiple modalities might be equally appropriate.
Reusing and recycling are two of the three Rs of waste management. For radiologists, several actions can be taken. Eliminating paper and using reusable medical gowns can help reduce waste. Sumner and his colleagues also added that patients can order their food a la carte to help reduce food waste, and that biodegradable items and packaging can help the cause.
However, researchers have also drawn attention to virtual technologies to help reduce pollution. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted radiology practices to use telehealth to continue working while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Teleradiology has been successful over the past two years in being used while providing effective diagnostics.
Sumner et al wrote that increased use of teleradiology can help reduce transportation-related pollution and energy consumption. They also called for more virtual meetings and events rather than in-person events for this reason.
“Additionally, a checklist for hosting eco-friendly meetings also suggests educating attendees about sustainable and carbon-neutral events, reducing meat and dairy to reduce carbon emissions, and using smaller plates to minimize food waste, avoid disposable materials and ask attendees to bring their own cups, plates and cutlery, and provide waste sorting bins,” they wrote.
Radiology managers may be enthusiastic about making these eco-friendly changes to their practices, but staff may have reservations. So how should leaders inspire motivation? Sumner and his colleagues wrote that as a first step, leaders should help staff understand how climate change is affecting their personal health, especially as it relates to clean air, clean water, and adequate housing.
A report 2021 from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that the direct health costs of climate change will be $2-4 billion per year by 2030. Along with this, the report states that the WHO projects approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.
Green campaigns similar to Image Wisely or Image Gently could also help motivate radiologists to commit to sustainability, and effective leadership engagement with employees can help encourage employees to take action to foster a culture greener, the researchers wrote.
“Individuals can make simple contributions in everyday life to a greener world,” Sumner and his colleagues added. “After all, it is ultimately up to the individual user to remember to turn off any computer or workstation that is not in use and to turn off the lights in unoccupied rooms.”
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