American Telemedicine Association convenes task force on climate change

By Jonah Comstock
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What does telemedicine have to do with climate change? 

That’s what the American Telemedicine Association is setting out to discover with a new task force, announced this week on the organization’s blog

ATA is recruiting now for a two-year task force with four stated goals. First, the group will devise green outcomes that can be measured as part of how members routinely measure the outcome of their systems. Second, they will focus on making the ATA itself more environmentally conscious by reducing travel. 

The other two goals are about demonstrating the potential positive effects of telemedicine on the environment. The task force will look to show how telemedicine can create more sustainable healthcare practices and how telemedicine can aid in responding to health emergencies caused by climate change — such as warming, disasters and the spread of infectious diseases.

The idea that telemedicine could have a positive environmental impact by preventing unnecessary car travel to doctor visits was articulated earlier this year in a study out of the University of California Davis

The group concluded that telemedicine utilization saved the air almost 2,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, 50 metric tons of carbon monoxide, 3.7 metric tons of nitrogen oxides and 5.5 metric tons of volatile organic compounds.

In addition to the task force, ATA is recruiting two project teams related to this initiative. One team will assigned to “design[ing] the energy efficient small medical practice of the future” while the other will be charged with “develop[ing] a portable urgent virtual care system.”

The effort is being led by ATA President Dr. Peter Yellowlees. The task force will give its first report at ATA’s 2018 conference.