How Telehealth Has Helped the Environment

Lane Simond:

A recent study shows that telehealth systems during the first two years of the pandemic resulted in significant savings for both patients and the environment.

Many health systems were forced to adopt telehealth care for medical appointments during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. The concept is nothing new, but the study demonstrates how it took a health crisis to reveal that the tool has been under utilized until now.

The study conducted by UC Davis Health researchers looked at telehealth visits’ carbon footprint and the potential savings to lives, costs and time compared to in-person health visits. The researchers worked with data from five UC health systems and then calculated the round-trip distance, travel time and travel costs, as well as injuries and fatalities linked to driving to appointments. Additionally, the team looked at data on greenhouse gas emissions that patients would have generated if they had gone for in-person ambulatory care as opposed to telehealth services.

Here are some of the results from the study:

  • CO2emissions savings of close to 21,466 metric tons over the two years.
  • Elimination of the need to commute 53,664,391 miles
  • An estimated 204 years of travel time saved
  • $33,540,244 travel-related costs saved
  • 4 injuries and 0.7 fatalities.

It is interesting that the researchers estimated the emissions savings to be like a year’s worth of carbon dioxide emissions from electricity of over 4,000 US homes.

“Studies like this are of great interest to us at Sparta because technology is the backbone of our organization and while our health division is looking to leverage advanced tech to make it quicker and easier for people to get health care and health supplies, our Environment and Energy divisions are focused on saving client’s money, as well as saving the planet,” said Jason Smith, director of Sparta’s health division.

The UC Davis Health researchers hope their telehealth findings will encourage health systems around the globe to continue with telehealth long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

The study was published  in the Journal of Telemedicine and eHealth.

Note: Although telemedicine was initially introduced in Canada in the early 60’s, it wasn’t until after the year 2000 that it became known to many patients. Between 2015-2018 the number of physicians in the country offering telemedicine skyrocketed. According to Canada Health Infoway data, rates of virtual care in Canada rose from 10%-20% in 2019 to 60% in 2020.