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Kaiser Says Electronic Health Records Lower CO2 Emissions

Kaiser Permanente, which operates the world’s largest private electronic health record, Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect, estimates that EHR could lower carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 1.7 million tons across the entire U.S. population, according to a study published in the May issue of Health Affairs.

This year, health care organizations are set to receive incentives worth billions of dollars to digitize records, according to the NY Times..

The study evaluated the effects of EHR use on greenhouse gases, waste, toxic chemicals and water use within the Kaiser system, which serves more than 8.7 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Kaiser Permanente operates the world’s largest private electronic health record, Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect.

The analysis found that Kaiser’s use of health IT:

– Avoided the use of 1,044 tons of paper for medical charts annually,
– Eliminated up to 92,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by replacing face-to-face patient visits (and the associated travel) with virtual visits,
– Avoided 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by filling prescriptions online, and
– Reduced the use of toxic chemicals, such as silver nitrate and hydroquinone, by 33.3 tons by digitizing and archiving X-ray images and other scans.

Health care-related activities account for 8 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gases and 7 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions.

“Prior to this study, the benefits of electronic health records were categorized primarily by their impact on the quality of care and potential to improve efficiency,” said study co-author Terhilda Garrido, vice president of Health Information Technology Transformation and Analytics at Kaiser. “As the country increases its ‘meaningful use’ of HIT, we should consider other macro impacts as well.”

In January, the company went live with the first stage of its California-based solar power initiative at Santa Clara Medical Center. The solar panels will produce 8.5 percent of the power used at the medical center. It is the first of 15 locations that will turn on sustainable energy programs this year, the company reported.

Kaiser also plans to install “Bloom boxes” in seven of its California facilities this year.

In 2010, Kaiser launched a Sustainability Scorecard, the first effort in the health care sector to evaluate the sustainability of each medical item it purchases.


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