Eco-Radiology – The Way Forward

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Hospitals are not known for being the greenest places in terms of energy efficiency. The UK Government reported in a survey (late 2011), that eight of the ten worst emitters of greenhouse gases were, in fact, hospitals.

Arguably, hospitals are large buildings, with fluctuating populations and no real “overseer”, responsible for closing windows or switching off lights, plus some essential electronic equipment has to be on and ready all the time.

I imagine that doctors have a lot to worry about as it is, with every day literally a fight against life and death –leaving a few lights on and not switching off the computer at night are trivial things in comparison.

While this might sound rhetoric, the statistics speak for themselves. In the 2009-2010 period, the NHS as a whole used 42.74m gigajoules of energy – that represents £5.62 million ($8.78 million), and the cost to the environment was 3.72 mega-tonnes of carbon dioxide.

That is no small amount, and helping to keep costs down plus heat and energy inside the building is what hospitals need to achieve in order to become more efficient.


What it means for Radiology

Ever heard of Eco-Radiology? Well, you might be hearing more about it if Dr Eliot Siegel has anything to do with it. Dr Siegel, from University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, presented his ground breaking report called “Greening Radiology” in late 2011, which states that radiologists have a unique opportunity to be role models of energy efficiency in their area of care.

But why target the radiologists? Well, it is one of the most power-hungry departments in any hospital setting, as it has always been the first to implement any new technology that can add to the patient care experience.

But while doctors are keen to utilise the computers that operate the PET ct, oncology, tumor board and imaging software used for both diagnosis and treatment, the computers must be treated in a much more energy efficient way.


Here are five steps you can take within your department to improve energy efficiency:

1.Turn off computers when not in use

When Dr McCarthy, a third year Radiology resident at St Vincent’s University Hospital Dublin, decided to check the levels of energy being used by machines that were left switched on, he was shocked by the findings.

He took into account not just desktop computers, but also lights, printers, fax machines, photocopiers and other office equipment. He measured the energy consumption for a whole year.

Out of the computers available 29 of 43 were left on unnecessarily overnight, and even left on throughout a whole weekend but not used. In total, this wasted 25,000 kilowatts annually.  As well as that, 25 out of 27 PACS reporting stations were regularly left on overnight, which costs the equivalent of £3,200 ($5,000) in wasted funds, plus 47,000kwh of wasted energy.

It might not sound much – but that’s the equivalent to the entire carbon emissions of six passenger vehicles for a whole year. Just think, hospitals pumping more wasted energy than six cars!


2.Keep medical records electronic

Dr Siegel thinks that radiologists should be an integral part of helping fellow doctors keep their medical records electronically. The best EHR software can replace almost all hard copy records. Dr McCarthy in Dublin agrees. To avoid vast paper wastage, clinical workflow should be streamlined and electronic ordering should be fully implemented across the board.


3.Turn off the air conditioning

This is another drain on resources, which should be avoided wherever possible. Does air conditioning have to be on all the time? Researchers targeted just two reporting rooms and found that air conditioning in fact wasted 37,000 kwh every single year, at a cost of £2,500 ($4,000) – what a terrible waste of money that could be going to better use saving lives!


4.Switch the light bulbs

In a domestic setting, changing the light bulbs is an easy thing to do which can help carbon emissions immeasurably. Although Dr McCarthy did recognise that swapping up to 300 bulbs within the radiology department for their energy saving equivalents would cost a lot of money in the short term, currently 80 metric tons of carbon dioxide (that’s the same as 16 passenger cars!) is being leaked and costing £7,700 ($12,000).

So, changing now is going to save upward of £7,700 each year – a good investment.


5.Recycling other waste materials

It’s not just paper that could be more efficiently recycled. Specific hospital waste such as radiology catheters, plastic gloves, and general daily waste can be recycled widely.  All it takes is there to be clear recycling points, to make this action much easier for the doctors, nurses and practitioners.

The cleaning and laundry departments could also embrace more environmentally aware practises. What about making roof top gardens and harvesting rain water? These are all long term solutions for large organisations.


What other ideas do you have at your place of work which has helped keep costs down and been recognised as contributing to the workplace energy efficiency?

  • Estelle Page

    Estelle Page is a UK-based interior designer with a passion for all things green. From growing her own herbs and vegetables to incorporating sustainable, eco-friendly materials into her designs for clients, she tries to lead an environmentally-friendly life without compromising on comfort or style.

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