HumanInsight Environmental impact of telehealth use for pediatric surgery
J Pediatr Surg. 2022 Jul 7:S0022-3468(22)00443-2. doi: 10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2022.06.023. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: The healthcare sector is responsible for 10% of US greenhouse gas emissions. Telehealth use may decrease healthcare's carbon footprint. Our institution introduced telehealth to support SARS-CoV-2 social distancing. We aimed to evaluate the environmental impact of telehealth rollout.
METHODS: We conducted a retrospective cohort study of pediatric patients seen by a surgical or pre anesthesia provider between March 1, 2020 and March 1, 2021. We measured patient-miles saved and CO2 emissions prevented to quantify the environmental impact of telehealth. Miles saved were calculated by geodesic distance between patient home address and our institution. Emissions prevented were calculated assuming 25 miles per gallon fuel efficiency and 19.4 pounds of CO2 produced per gallon of gasoline consumed. Unadjusted Poisson regression was used to assess relationships between patient demographics, geography, and telehealth use.
RESULTS: 60,773 in-person and 10,626 telehealth encounters were included. This represented an 8,755% increase in telehealth use compared to the year prior. Telehealth resulted in 887,006 patient-miles saved and 688,317 fewer pounds of CO2 emitted. Demographics significantly associated with decreased telehealth use included Asian and Black/African American racial identity, Hispanic ethnic identity, and primary language other than English. Further distance from the hospital and higher area deprivation index were associated with increased telehealth use (IRR 1.0006 and 1.0077, respectively).
CONCLUSION: Incorporating telehealth into pediatric surgical and pre anesthesia clinics resulted in significant CO2 emission reductions. Expanded telehealth use could mitigate surgical and anesthesia service contributions to climate change. Racial and linguistic minority status were associated with significantly lower rates of telehealth utilization, necessitating additional inquiry into equitable telemedicine use for minoritized populations.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level IV.
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