Physicians go green and set environmental example for patients

Troy Parks
Staff Writer
AMA Wire
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Public health has always been a major concern for physicians, but continued pollution and energy overconsumption have caused many health and safety issues. As part of a green initiative based in Florida—and now used in 24 states and 14 countries—some physician practices are taking action to reduce their energy consumption to save money and promote a healthier environment for their patients—the public.

My Green Doctor, developed through the collaboration of the World Medical Association, the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, is a free comprehensive environmental sustainability program designed to help medical practices save energy and promote healthier practices among their patients.

“It’s really up to individuals,” said Todd Sack, MD a gastroenterologist in Florida and editor of MyGreenDoctor.org. “Physicians, as role models of our communities, if we’re thinking about environmental health and how important it is for our patients and our community, then it’s easier for our patients also to adopt these environmental practices.”

How it works

The program—developed by physicians—was set up to give physicians tools with two important goals, he said, to create a healthier office environment and to save the physicians money on their utility bills and supplies.

“A test group out of Escambia County, Florida … implemented what we recommended,” Dr. Sack said, “and they’re saving their office about $2,000 per doctor per year.”

“[An important] component of My Green Doctor is teaching these concepts to our patients,” he said, “whether it’s in the exam room or the waiting room. We want to give doctors tools … to teach better environmental health practices.”

My Green Doctor offers seven free workbooks on topics ranging from solid waste and recycling to drug disposal and chemicals. The first workbook, energy efficiency, offers dozens of energy efficient action and education choices for an office to consider, including:

  • Adopt a thermostat policy for your office—74 degrees in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter.
  • Change all incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • Turn off your hot water. Most offices can safely turn off hot water heaters with no adverse health consequences.

How it’s working in Escambia County

“Doctors are everywhere, they can have a great influence in their community,” said John Lanza, MD, director of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County, one of the first locations to implement the My Green Doctor program.

“[Physicians] have the ability to pick and choose to a great extent the type of paper that they use in their offices, and various other things to control energy usage in their offices … but they also have the ability to pass this information on to their patients.”

In Escambia County’s offices, they reduced the amount of hot water being used, shut off over half of the fluorescent lights and installed sensor faucets in all of the restrooms and hand washing stations. The implementation of an electronic health record also greatly reduced the amount of paper they used.

“We saved about 108,000 pounds of carbon dioxide generated. Because of the fact that we have our lights turned off and we’re not burning gas,” Dr. Lanza said. In the first year of participation, 2011, “we saved about $20,000 on utility costs.”

Getting involved is easy and free for all practices. Visit MyGreenDoctor.org to register and get started in your practice.

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