By practicing medicine in an ecologically conscious atmosphere, we can contribute to the health of our patients, our staff, and our community; on a much larger scale, we will be helping to sustain the future of our ecosystem.
In this article, we discuss why physicians need to be conscious of the environment and offer cost-effective suggestions for implementing eco-friendly behaviors into your medical practice. While some improvements made in the name of environmental sustainability may require an initial investment, going green will actually save you money in the span of just a few years. By giving your practice an eco-friendly face-lift, you can improve your public image as well.
Start by reducing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the gases emitted from disinfectants, aerosol products, and air fresheners. VOCs can impact our patients' health and the health of our staff. By eliminating VOC-emitting cleaning products and air fresheners and choosing low VOC-emitting carpets, paint, and furniture, we can greatly improve the quality of the air that we, our employees, and our patients breathe.
Reducing waste is another easy way to improve the health of your community. Recycling plastic, paper, metal, and glass will dramatically reduce waste output. Consider the paper produced in your office every day by the fax machine and copier. Most American cities offer recyclable waste pick-up in combination with their regular waste pick-up for a minimal monthly fee.
Using washable and reusable products is another way to decrease waste output and save money in the process. For example, using flatware and tableware instead of disposable paper plates and plastic silverware reduces waste and saves money. This switch does require an initial investment, but it will soon pay for itself.
Paper patient gowns and exam table covers are another source of waste and a drain on your bank account. As environmentally savvy physicians, we should consider using cloth gowns and exam table covers washed in a green detergent. Instead of using plastic specula, use metal specula cleaned with green antiseptic and steamed in a medical steamer.
Many physicians provide bottled water for themselves and their staff, the cost of which adds up over time. You can save money and be green at the same time by discontinuing the use of bottled water. Instead, drink filtered tap water out of reusable glasses. A one-time purchase of a filtration device that attaches to the faucet or a pitcher that filters tap water makes drinking filtered water easy and eco-friendly.
Gradual approach may work best
The idea of coloring your practice green may seem overwhelming at first, and not every practice is able to perform the complete eco-makeover all at once. Instead, try to tackle green improvements in stages. Start by turning off the office lights, computers, and appliances at night to help save energy and save money on your electric bill.
Changing your computer etiquette is another small change that can lead to tremendous improvements. Reading articles online instead of printing them saves paper and ink. Consider adding a note to your e-mail signature asking the receiver to read the message electronically instead of printing. This idea can also apply to the practice Web site; ask that patients read the information you provide online instead of printing it.
The next steps might be exchanging your old light bulbs for energy-efficient bulbs and investigating the recyclable waste pick-up options in your area. This is another simple change that can go a long way. It only requires a few additional trash bins and a little extra effort. You can also install timers on your thermostats and use motion sensors on lights to save on energy costs. Many utility companies provide free energy audits and suggestions for lowering utility costs.
The environmental movement is receiving considerable positive attention in the media. This positive press guarantees that these types of changes will improve your public image. By staying current in the health technology and environmental fields, physicians show that they provide the most up-to-date information and treatments to their patients. When making the switch to environmentally friendly practices, consider posting a note in your reception area informing patients and other visitors of your efforts to "green" your office.
Patients will appreciate being informed of the changes taking place at their doctor's office. They will recognize your efforts to protect the health of our environment and understand that you will put forth even greater efforts to ensure their own health and well-being.
Bottom line: Every physician should take responsibility not only for the health of their patients and of the people in their community but also the health of the environment in which they live. These changes can be as small as flipping off a light switch and as large as giving your office building a green face-lift. No matter how big or small, each change will contribute to decreasing costs and waste output, increasing the health of your staff, improving your public image, and setting you on the path to an environmentally friendly medical lifestyle.
Dr. Baum is a urologist in private practice in New Orleans. He is the author of Marketing Your Clinical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically.
Dr. Dowling is medical director of Urology Associates of North Texas, a 49-physician, community- based, single-specialty group in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.