Patient Care Pathways to Advance Personal, Population & Planet Health

By: Randall Rutta, CEO, National Health Council 

The National Health Council (NHC) recognizes the pivotal role of patients to advance health and safeguard the planet. Climate change poses significant threats to human well-being, often exacerbating health disparities and undermining health outcomes worldwide. The NHC is proud to stand with patient communities in addressing these challenges head-on, paving the way for a healthier, more resilient future for all. 

With climate change disproportionately affecting those with chronic medical conditions, it’s imperative to acknowledge the heightened risk these individuals face from extreme weather events, pollution, and environmental disruptions. As health leaders globally strive for net-zero health care, it’s useful to differentiate this approach from carbon neutrality. Net-zero health care prioritizes emission reduction over offsetting, emphasizing the importance of sustainable practices within health care delivery.   

Potential patient pathways toward decarbonization increasingly look to greater use of telehealth, remote diagnosis and monitoring, and reducing waste and energy use in health care delivery. Recognizing that the health care sector accounts for 5% of total carbon emissions, it is imperative that the health care community with patients actively engage in decarbonization and climate change mitigation.  

Patient travel for appointments via car is often cited as an area to explore to reduce carbon emissions. The NHC supports pursuing this and other strategies so long as patient needs and preferences are prioritized. Reconfiguring how and where patients receive health care must balance individual health journeys, equity, health team interactions, and systems sustainability, with meaningful forward movement on saving the planet. Lifestyle modifications and disease management strategies can offer tangible opportunities for patients to fight against climate change without compromising their quality of care. 

Patient education and empowerment are key in fostering sustainable health care practices. Initiatives like the American Lung Association’s Stand Up for Clean Air and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s climate change research efforts exemplify the impact patient organizations can have in driving meaningful change.  

By raising awareness, advocating for change, promoting sustainable health care, and supporting research and innovation, patients can actively shape and engage in pathways that strive for net-zero health care. The NHC and its members are actively contributing to strategic disease partnerships between health care leaders, policymakers, and global efforts, such as the Sustainable Markets Initiative, that collectively demonstrate a strong commitment to patient-centric decarbonization of health care. We believe that through decarbonization, advances in patient and population health are aligned with, in fact interdependent with, planet health. We are honored to do our part.