East Kootenay family physician develops national guide to reduce healthcare’s environmental impact

Sustainability and environmental action is an increasingly important topic in the healthcare system

by Submitted
Dr. Ilona Hale standing in field on overcast day, row of solar panels in picture behind her.

Dr. Ilona Hale is the author of the new Planetary Health for Primary Care resource. The Kimberley-based family physician is passionate about the environment. — Nicole Leclair photo

A team of healthcare professionals led by family physician Dr. Ilona Hale has produced a new resource called Planetary Health for Primary Care, which outlines ways clinicians can be climate advocates in their day-to-day work. The healthcare sector is one of the most polluting sectors, contributing five per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“It’s an online guide for healthcare providers meant to make the job of reducing our environmental impact in healthcare easier,” said Dr. Hale, who lives in Kimberley, B.C. “The Planetary Health for Primary Care guide offers a new way to think about the problem and practical tips on incorporating solutions into everyday clinical practice.”

The Planetary Health for Primary Care guide can be accessed by the public on the Cascades Canada website or by healthcare providers on Pathways, a comprehensive, password-protected physician's resource website.

“There were previous guides to environmental action in healthcare, but they were more focused on recycling, reducing energy, and saving paper, which is not where the true problem is,” said Dr. Hale. “This resource outlines different strategies that address the bigger impacts—the upstream waste generated in the supply chain to produce materials required for medications, lab tests, surgeries, and hospitalizations—and offers tangible actions to decrease it, such as reducing unnecessary care, empowering patients, and shifting to prevention.”

Dr. Hale notes environmental action in healthcare is becoming an increasingly important topic, and there is strong potential that sustainability will soon become embedded as a necessary component of value in our healthcare system.

“Low-carbon, high-quality care is a win-win-win: it improves patient care, reduces our environmental impact, reduces our workload, saves money in the system, and increases equity,” said Dr. Hale.

The Planetary Health for Primary Care guide was supported by the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice and Cascades Canada, a Government of Canada initiative. Prior to writing the guide, a working group on Planetary Health in Primary Care was engaged. As well, a multi-disciplinary review was conducted in two rounds by healthcare professionals from across Canada along with input from patient partners.


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