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Healthcare reform = Less medical waste

Human health and the health of the planet are closely intertwined. It’s easy to see how clean air and water affect us in all kinds of ways, but perhaps our own proactive approaches to being healthy can help the environment as well.

The easy examples of this are when we choose to bike or walk instead of driving a car. Or when we consume locally-grown fruits, vegetables and plant-based proteins instead of processed foods and industrially-farmed beef and pork products. Fewer fossil fuels are used while we do ourselves a healthy favor.

But another argument in favor of protecting our health and the environment can be found in America’s healthcare reform regime, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). As I detail in this article in Modern Counsel magazine, the unfolding law provides strong incentives for providers to deliver healthcare using fewer resources even while improving patient outcomes. In real terms, this means a rationalized and holistic treatment of patients – based on the patient’s need, not just to utilize services, devices and pharmaceuticals – such that there will be less acute (i.e., expensive) care needed in the future.

For a better perspective, it helps to consider the cost of illness on the environment. Every disease and injury is different, but just consider in macro the story of medical waste. Hospitals produce 7,000 tons of garbage every day; disposal costs across the industry are $10 billion every year. Per patient, about 25 pounds of waste are produced every day; some of that waste is hazardous and requires extraordinary disposal processes.

Healthier people, accomplished through healthier lifestyles and more efficacious healthcare delivery, mean that less hospital waste is generated.

Getting into the weeds, as my Modern Counsel story does, we see that to make this transition happen it takes lawyers to navigate the healthcare system's highly regulated and often litigious environment. What’s particularly encouraging about the scenario is that even in the legal department of a major hospital system, North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System (Great Neck, NY), the attorneys conciously work in alignment with physicians, nurses, therapists and EMTs. They all know they want better care, healthier patients and controlled costs. What they get is also a cleaner, healthier planet.

Russ Klettke is a business writer who focuses on innovation in all industries, with a particular interest in human health, the environment, building design, urban planning and all related economic factors. Contact him to discuss your communications needs.

For every pound of medical waste, 32 pounds of input products are also consumed in the original manufacturing.

In the U.S. the disposal of medical waste is highly regulated and costly. In third-world countries medical waste disposal is often haphazard and contributes to dangerous conditions that include toxic emissions.

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Russ Klettke

Business Writer

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