Earth Day

Climate change and health: A physician call for action

The recent pandemic has upended many of our assumptions about how to practice in a changing world, making an approach to the existing climate crisis even more urgent.

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We celebrate Earth Day on April 22 every year, yet the health of the earth is failing. The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Impacts report states that climate and health care are inseparable. Climatic changes can adversely affect up to 78% of known diseases by placing increased pressure on vulnerable systems, populations and regions, compounding already existing medical conditions and health disparities.

To combat some of these effects, principle-centered medicine is becoming more popular and prevalent in the health care field. Principle-centered medicine is aligned to patient-centered, high-value care and the needs of our nation’s healthcare system. It is a logical outgrowth of the osteopathic tenets. The recent pandemic has upended many of our assumptions about how to practice in a changing world, making an approach to the existing climate crisis even more urgent. 

What can we do as individual physicians?

Educate ourselves: Lack of knowledge about climate change can be a reason physicians don’t address climate-related health concerns with patients; and vice versa, the patients might not know to ask. For the osteopathic standpoint, physicians can check out the information from August 2022 on climate and health on the ACOI learning website.

Free webinars are also available from The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health and The Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE). I also found Global Climate Change and Human Health: From Science to Practice, by Kim Knowlton, Cecilia Sorensen and Jay Lemery to be a helpful resource. It’s also a good idea to check into your institution to see if they offer any seminars, webinars or fellowships in climate and health.

Educate our trainees: Many medical schools are starting to implement either required or voluntary lectures on climate and health. Residencies are planning for ways to add patient-specific climate discussions during rotations. It’s beneficial to ourselves to look into these information sessions, and even start some of our own after being educated on the climate situation.

Educate our patients: It’s possible that lack of time is a reason physicians don’t always study topics like climate change, and how that can relate to patients’ health. However, even briefly reviewing their individual risks can help guide patients to more disease prevention strategies. To save time, physicians can choose to hand out printed information.

Brochures from My Green Doctor are a great place to start. These can be set up with your practice information, and emailed or printed for patients in English or Spanish. There are also small posters from the Center for Climate Change and Health that you can put up in your office to help the public understand the health impacts of climate change and what they can do to protect themselves and the planet.

Serve as an example: Use the “7th generation” principle based on ancient Iroquois philosophy, which says that in every decision, be it personal, governmental or corporate, we must consider how it will affect our descendants seven generations into the future. Addressing climate change will help our patients, our own health and the health of our planet. We must all do our part.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

How has the COVID pandemic changed health care?

Physician advocacy: Tips for communicating with legislators via phone, letters and face-to-face

One comment

  1. Jesse Monestersky,DO

    Please direct this to your web master. Many journals have a download pdf function to download their articles. Suggest providing this functionality with The DO and JOM. Thank you.

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