Organized Medicine Takes on Climate Change, but Not All Docs Agree

John Watson


April 27, 2017

Dr Sarfaty says the Consortium's goal is not to compel clinicians to participate in this issue, but rather to provide those who have an interest with the means to do so. The majority of respondents to the surveys that Dr Sarfaty and colleagues conducted[3,4,5] agreed that physicians should play an active role in educating patients and the public about this issue. The question is how best to do so.

Dr Sarfaty says there are myriad ways for clinicians to go about this. She recommended getting the message out through their local media, visiting policy makers, speaking with their colleagues who have developed expertise on climate change–related health risks, or inviting them to address their local medical societies.

"This is the same way that physicians get information updates on other health subjects," she says. "Physicians are very good at this. They spend many hours across the country keeping up-to-date. Doctors have excellent routes for communication with each other, with the public through the press, and with policy makers. We should be using all of them."

According to Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA), physicians taking up this issue have an opportunity to improve their patients' health in ever more substantial ways.

"Depending on what you read, somewhere between 10% and 20% of what we do in the office setting actually impacts patients' health. Everything else is social determinants, and climate change is one of those many factors," he says. "If we're serious about improving the health of people, we're going to have to be much more comfortable addressing these very impactful determinants of health at the root cause."

He says that, at a minimum, practitioners should educate themselves and their patients about the climate-related effects relevant to their specialty. For example, primary care physicians should understand that a warmer climate means that they need to keep an eye out for certain infectious diseases with an expanding range, like Lyme disease. And physicians can lead by example by reducing the carbon footprints of their own practices, he says.

"Physicians ought to think of this like any other business," he says. "Even if you don't believe in climate change, there's a business case in moving into cleaner energy."


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