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What is the Carbon Footprint of Digital Healthcare?

Citation Daniel_Watanabe, L., Moore, R. and Tongue, B. What is the Carbon Footprint of Digital Healthcare?. UKERC. 2024.
Author(s) Daniel_Watanabe, L., Moore, R. and Tongue, B.
Publisher UKERC
Download UKERC_EnergySHINES_What-is-the-Carbon-Footprint-of-Digital-Healthcare.pdf document type
Abstract Digital healthcare technologies (DHTs) have the potential to both reduce and increase the carbon footprint of healthcare systems. As healthcare rapidly digitises, leveraging technologies from electronic records to AI, it faces the challenge of balancing the environmental costs of digitalisation against the benefits of reduced emissions from traditional healthcare activities.

This policy brief explores the dual nature of DHTs in contributing to and mitigating healthcares carbon footprint. Focusing on Englands National Health Service (NHS), the study delves into how the adoption of digital technologies could either reduce or exacerbate the healthcare sectors carbon footprint, raising critical questions for the NHSs digital transformation efforts.

The analysis reveals that while DHTs offer avenues for reducing emissionssuch as telehealth reducing the need for patient and clinician travelthey also entail significant environmental costs through the manufacturing and operation of digital infrastructure. The study underscores the necessity of developing an open and shared database of carbon factors for healthcare systems, standardising methodologies for calculating carbon impact, and undertaking both pre-implementation estimations and post-implementation realisations to better manage DHTs carbon footprint.