Telehealth Implementation At NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center Leads To Considerable Decrease In Carbon Emissions

A new report from JAMA Network Open has revealed that the implementation of telehealth at an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center has led to a considerable decrease in carbon emissions. This suggests that virtual care could be a great way to reduce the environmental impact of healthcare.

In 2020, global CO2 emissions decreased significantly due to the restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The US led this reduction with a nearly 13% decrease, mostly due to decreases in transportation. In the US, health care sector GHG emissions rose by 6% from 2008 to 2018. In response to the climate emergency, over 200 health journals published a joint statement urging urgent action. This study estimates the CO2 emissions saved from implementing telemedicine at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

CO2 emissions decreased globally by 6.4%, or 2.3 billion tons, in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the US, emissions fell by 13%, mostly due to decreases in transportation. The healthcare sector’s GHG emissions rose by 6%, or 8.5% of domestic GHG emissions, from 2008 to 2018, with the US having the highest per capita CO2 equivalent emissions among industrialized nations. In response to the climate emergency, over 200 leading health journals published a joint commentary which called for urgent action to limit the impact of climate change on health. Subsequently, telemedicine was quickly adopted for widespread access to health care. The researchers of this study sought to investigate whether telemedicine visits do help to reduce carbon emissions. 

To do this, the researchers utilized a large oncolgy patient data set from Moffitt Cancer Center. The data consisted of 23,228 patients who participated in 49,329 telehealth visits between April 1st, 2020, and June 30th, 2021. 21,489 of these visits took place among those with a driving time of 60 minutes or less, while 27,840 were among those with a commute of more than 60 minutes. The researchers discovered that telehealth had a major positive environmental impact, saving 424,471 kg of carbon dioxide emissions among patients who lived within an hour of the cancer center, and a remarkable 2.7 million kg of carbon dioxide emissions among those with a longer commute.

The results of this cross-sectional study highlighted the immense benefits of telemedicine in oncology, and the researchers propose that it should be implemented further. Additionally, telemedicine can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with health care. However, the researchers did note some limitations to the study, including the assumption that patients would have traveled via personal automobile and the lack of accounting for electricity used during telemedicine visits must be taken into consideration. The researchers believe that further research is needed on the long-term oncologic outcomes with telemedicine visits to assess the true efficacy of telemedicine.