World Health Day 2023: A net-zero healthcare system

Did you know that the Australian healthcare sector contributes 7 per cent of the nation’s total carbon emissions? Following the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Doctors for the Environment Australia’s (DEA) call on the Australian healthcare sector to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2040, with an interim emission reduction target of 80 per cent by 2030, what do we need to do to achieve it?

For World Health Day on April 7, we asked Associate Professor Zerina Tomkins from the School of Nursing and Midwifery about her work in developing a sustainable healthcare system and her views on what we need to do to improve health outcomes for all.

What are some of the biggest challenges in tackling sustainable healthcare systems?

We have abysmal publicly-accessible data that maps the carbon footprint of technologies, models of care and items we use for care delivery. This is the big challenge that needs attention as, right now, it’s hard for decision-makers to access information that could lead to wiser choices and practices. We also need evidence that supports the transition to less intense carbon emitting options, clearly maintains safe patient outcomes and delivers quality care that supports the economic viability of healthcare services.

Associate Professor Zerina Tomkins.

How important is collaboration in providing new solutions in sustainable healthcare systems?

All disciplines must work together to deliver practical and economically-viable solutions that support the transition to sustainable, low-carbon models of care and healthcare service delivery. Often, clinicians delivering care at the bedside will have great ideas for improving processes. However, they need support from information technologists, computer scientists, engineers, health informaticians, architects or builders to make these solutions a reality.

What needs to happen in sustainable healthcare system research to achieve improved health outcomes for all?

We must stop working in silos and think beyond the constraints of what funding and grant bodies can provide. We must break the traditional boundaries and join forces to decarbonise the healthcare system. We need to act and not be held back by the lack of funding or leadership on this issue. Each of us has a sphere of influence and we must use it to benefit and protect the planet.

What are some of the biggest achievements in sustainable healthcare systems research that you’ve been involved with or are working on now?

I’m working with computer scientists and information technologists to decarbonise digital healthcare. I'm also in discussions with a major tertiary hospital to support its journey to reducing the carbon footprint of its pathology laboratory. The leadership shown by the clinicians and medical laboratory scientists to address this issue head-on, despite COVID-19-related pressures on our healthcare workforce, inspires me to work even harder.

Explore our range of undergraduate and postgraduate study options in nursing and midwifery.

About Monash University

Monash University is Australia’s largest university with more than 80,000 students. In the 60 years since its foundation, it has developed a reputation for world-leading high-impact research, quality teaching, and inspiring innovation.

With four campuses in Australia and a presence in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and Italy, it is one of the most internationalised Australian universities.

As a leading international medical research university with the largest medical faculty in Australia and integration with leading Australian teaching hospitals, we consistently rank in the top 50 universities worldwide for clinical, pre-clinical and health sciences.

For more news, visit Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences or Monash University.