An analysis by Kaiser Permanente (Oakland, Calif.) shows that use of health information technology can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce other important environmental savings. The study, published in the May issue of Health Affairs, estimates that electronic health records could lower carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 1.7 million tons across the entire U.S. population.
The study is built on a unique model that evaluated the effects of EHR use on greenhouse gases, waste, toxic chemicals and water use within the Kaiser Permanente system, which serves more than 8.7 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Kaiser Permanente operates the world's largest private electronic health record, Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect®. The analysis found that comprehensive use of health IT by Kaiser Permanente:
• Avoided the use of 1,044 tons of paper for medical charts annually
• Eliminated up to 92,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by replacing face-to-face patient visits (and the associated travel) with virtual visits
• Avoided 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by filling prescriptions online
• Reduced the use of toxic chemicals, such as silver nitrate and hydroquinone, by 33.3 tons by digitizing and archiving X-ray images and other scans
• Resulted in a positive net effect on the environment despite increased energy use and additional waste from the use of personal computers