How remote healthcare technologies can tackle climate crisis
With the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the UNFCCC around the corner, the global healthcare community's voices need to be heard at the climate negotiations. Companies can, and must, play a crucial role to address climate change by fulfilling their purpose and following through on their ESG commitments. This has never been more important than it is right now with the growing threat of climate change, systemic inequality and global health disparities posing a real threat to people, communities, and the planet.
The healthcare sector is responsible for 4.4 to 4.6 per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. If the global health care sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet, according to a report by Health Care Without Harm in collaboration with Arup. As such, it is imperative we turn our attention to healthcare technologies that can contribute to enabling earlier, better, and faster diagnosis and treatment for more people in need, while reducing or eliminating our impact on the environment. One of the many ways to tackle the ongoing climate crisis is to improve access to healthcare globally, especially to the half of the world’s population that is underserved and cannot access essential health services through digital and remote healthcare solutions.
To support a more sustainable future in the healthcare sector, we must look for ways to help health systems improve efficiency and reduce waste. With staffing shortages and an increasing number of patients intensified by the pandemic, the healthcare industry must find ways to better use existing resources to deliver care to more patients. Digital and remote healthcare technologies are positively contributing to environmental change by removing the 'care miles' of patients travelling to and from healthcare facilities as well as reducing the need for single-use personal protective equipment that has a high global warming potential.
As a leading medical technology and diagnostics innovator, we are developing efficiency features and leveraging digital to turn even the largest pieces of medical equipment into devices that make a smaller mark on our planet. We are supporting the Middle East's healthcare industry with solutions that provide a real time, comprehensive view of patients' status across a selected care area, hospital, or the entire health system. By doing so, we are enabling the healthcare industry to reduce its carbon footprint and support countries to achieve their climate goals while also helping clinical teams to deliver responsive, timely, and compliant care.
In remote and rural hospitals of the Middle East, for example, ICU patients are benefiting from 24/7 monitoring with advanced software that gathers patient data from multiple sources and continually watches for signs the patient is in trouble. If any deterioration is detected, an alert is sent to a specialized tele-ICU team, which contacts the hospital's bedside team and supports them in immediately delivering the right care. This tele-ICU solution has been deployed in Saudi Arabia and is supporting the Kingdom reach net zero by 2060. The remote consulting solution is also in use in other countries such as Qatar and Türkiye.
From a maintenance and repair perspective, our existing remote service technologies kept healthcare equipment running throughout the pandemic and continues to do so today. Across Middle East, Northeast Africa and Türkiye (MENEAT), there are more than 250 GE healthcare field service engineers supporting the growing demands of the region's healthcare industry, who have resolved approximately one-third of service issues remotely.
In other instances, the power of remote monitoring can be seen in the case of cardiac patients being transported by ambulance to the hospital. An ECG exam can be done while on the road and immediately transmitted to the receiving facility and doctor, for quick evaluation of the patient’s condition, supporting decision-making on the appropriate treatment.
Remote solutions also address the issue of application training limitations, which played a critical role during the pandemic. Our digital expert solution, which is a new approach to application training with live and customised face-to-face sessions, was delivered through a mobile tablet that easily connected to the system.
For years, we have focused its efforts on developing medical equipment with best-in-class image quality and advanced software to increase diagnostic confidence, but we are challenging ourselves to be better. One example is the development of a new magnetic resonance system, which is designed to lower the use of helium in the system, a scarce and non-renewable resource, by up to 67 per cent. The current version of the magnet is two tons lighter than its predecessor. We have also enabled medical staff to easily decrease the power consumption of the MR and reduce scan time by up to 50 per cent, saving both resources and improving the patient experience.
With emissions from the healthcare industry exacerbating climate change and its negative health impacts, it is important to find sustainable solutions and adopt more green initiatives to move the needle on climate change. For healthcare systems to successfully become more sustainable, public and private sector collaboration must become the norm. Without this, the full potential of remote healthcare technologies cannot be realised.
At GE Healthcare, climate action is an integral part of our mission to improve outcomes for patients, healthcare providers and researchers around the world, and it is our responsibility to intensify our actions to further reduce our emissions. To support the healthcare sector in the region to meet its sustainability ambitions, we have committed to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) and setting ambitious Scope 1 and 2 targets for our own operations in addition to developing develop Scope 3 targets that align with limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
With the ongoing pandemic and other health concerns continuing to impact global healthcare industry, certain actions to protect people and the planet will take longer to realise. However, changing the way healthcare is currently delivered around the world will contribute to a more sustainable future for all.
Ehab Zawaideh is General Manager - Middle East at GE Healthcare.