Dave O’ Shaughnessy, Avaya, Healthcare Solutions Leader EMEA & APAC

I’m now getting in trouble with my 13yo daughter, and it’s nothing to do with my Dad-Dancing or truly epic Dad-Jokes (I got fired from my lawn maintenance job – I was just not cutting it). It might surprise some that she’s annoyed with me for trying to promote a more environmentally friendly approach to everyday life activities in simple, logical ways. Let me explain.

In the wake of the Green Wave of heightened environmental action and awareness driven by people such as Greta Thunberg, the civil disobedience approach of the Extinction Rebellion, to recent Irish Government budget decisions, overdue and much needed Climate Action and Awareness is at the forefront of modern life and everyday activity. So when I told my daughter to haul her packed schoolbag and sports gear the kilometre or so to school together with her more enthusiastic 11yo brother so as to avoid driving the short distance, provided the weather isn’t too nasty, I see her shoulders slump with a look of annoyance that’s not too dissimilar to Harry Enfield’s miserable teenage character ‘Kevin’ and she gives me a big sigh and the silent expression of “that’s so unfair”.

While my own family’s efforts to reduce our own carbon footprint may be only a tiny drop in the overall ocean of Global Carbon reducing efforts, with simple actions such as planting new trees, new-flower varieties for the bees, reducing short car-trips, and a reduction in meat-consumption on a weekly basis, the raising awareness and taking ownership of the issues around Climate Change and our own responsibility has become a part of our family’s life and habits, but it can be tough for sure.

This has also been a guiding strategy in my own professional role as a communications technology consultant in the Healthcare service industry and our customers. We look to identify ways to make smarter use communication and collaboration technology across Healthcare services with now the added ambition of trying to reduce Healthcare’s environmental impact. I’ll provide some examples of how we’ve done that further down.

But what exactly is the impact on the environment that the Healthcare service has? Research was published in September 2019 by the NGO Health care Without Harm together with the consultancy firm Arup (https://noharm-uscanada.org/ClimateFootprintReport) to try to put quantitative measures on this Carbon footprint with some worrying findings and figures. For example, if the entire Healthcare vertical represented a single country, it would be responsible for 4.4% of all carbon emissions in the world, or 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide, or the 5th highest polluting ‘country’.

This report also provides emission figures for the Healthcare vertical in Ireland, categorizing our Healthcare service in the ‘Major Emitters’ ranking, with a 4.4% footprint as a percentage of Ireland’s total carbon emissions, or 0.61 tonnes of CO2 per capita. Couple that carbon footprint ranking together with a CSO Report published in August 2019 that shows Ireland has third highest emissions per capita (13.3 tonnes per capita of CO2 equivalent) of greenhouse gas in EU. So it’s easy to see we have a serious problem that is not only having negative environmental impact, but will additionally have increasingly expensive monetary fines imposed upon the state. Finally, in June 2019 the Irish Government set out an ambitious plan with a target of 2050 to become 100% Carbon Neutral. While presently light on specific tactics to achieve this target, this plan received a widespread welcome from environmental bodies in Ireland. Healthcare service will have to play their part in helping to identify where carbon emissions are being generated, and how they can be reduced or avoided all together.

Now, let me relate this Government’s strategy and the survey findings back to my story about my family’s actions to reduce our own Carbon Footprint. We identified simple actions to undertake that help to reduce our own emissions, and repeated actions become effective habits. But how has this approach been reflected in my professional experience in the Healthcare service?

Let me provide you with of what I believe are some simple, straightforward solutions that some customers have designed and used that not only helped to improve delivery of Healthcare services in interesting, new ways but additionally have the added benefit of reducing carbon footprints:

  • A Maternity hospital implemented an automated Neonatal ICU video-service that allowed parents to continuously view their babies through a USB-camera facing into the Incubation Unit meaning the mother maintained critical post-partum contact with their child and help to alleviate the possibility of post-natal depression but also reduces the need to be driving in to and parking at this extremely busy Maternity Hospital to visit their child.
  • As an extension to this use-case, this hospital also widened promotion, access, and usage of their Video solution for Education and Training between Regional locations so as to avoid distance travel, the associated costs and time consumed, and indirectly a reduction in associated carbon emissions.
  • The Regional Hospital who designed a healthcare app for patients living across a very large geographic region who normally had difficulty accessing regular healthcare consultations, especially for much-needed Mental Health support services. The App offers live, on-demand Video and discrete Instant Messaging features to patients meaning they have less of a need to travel long distances for their healthcare services.
  • A Hospital’s Endocrinology department proposed using Video Conferencing services for Diabetic patient consultations because there wasn’t any physical element to the consultations, so patients and consultants shouldn’t need to travel long distances, dealing with traffic and the expense of city parking, when a simple video-service can save time, save expense, and save carbon emissions.
  • The Hospital that runs a ‘Bedless’ strategy that minimises the duration a patient stays in the Acute / Specialist Hospital by maximising that patient’s pre and post-acute support services through usage of a Smart-App based Chatbot and Live Messaging services so that the patient spends as little time as necessary in the acute hospital, but as much time at home recuperating with the full support of live communication services, reducing the need for travel to follow-on care services and, indirectly, the emissions from those journeys.

Finally, there was a ‘kill two birds with one stone’ (apologies to PETA) value in implementing these communication and collaboration services in these hospitals. Not only was there the benefit of reducing their carbon emissions, there was also the benefit of digitally transforming a number of their time-consuming, inefficient workflows and processes, helping to improve internal staff as well as external patient engagement delivering increased positive outcomes.

For our family it literally began with taking some small steps … from our house to the school, but it’s so great to see Healthcare organisations also getting into this ‘Small Steps’ strategy and quickly seeing benefits in many ways – so let’s keep moving.