Concern over climate change is growing in the healthcare space, and telemedicine has been rapidly expanding since the start of the COVID19 pandemic. Understanding the various sources of environmental emissions from clinic visits—both virtual and in-person—will help create a more sustainable healthcare system. This study uses a Life Cycle Assessment with retrospective clinical data from Stanford Health Care (SHC) in 2019–2021 to determine the environmental emissions associated with in-person and virtual clinic visits. SHC saw 13% increase in clinic visits, but due to the rise in telemedicine services, the Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs) from these visits decreased 36% between 2019 and 2021. Telemedicine (phone and video appointments) helped SHC avoid approximately 17,000 metric tons of GHGs in 2021. Some departments, such as psychiatry and cancer achieved greater GHG reductions, as they were able to perform more virtual visits. Telemedicine is an important component for the reduction of GHGs in healthcare systems; however, telemedicine cannot replace every clinic visit and proper triaging and tracking systems should be in place to avoid duplicative care.
For a complete summary of this data source and to see reported environmental impact values for studied products and activities, explore the HealthcareLCA Database.
Thiel CL, Mehta N, Sejo CS, Qureshi L, Moyer M, Valentino V, Saleh J. Telemedicine and the environment: life cycle environmental emissions from in-person and virtual clinic visits. NPJ Digital Medicine. 2023 May 9;6(1):1-8.