What’s the greenest way to manage your practice?

A greater awareness for environmental responsibility has triggered a recent and rapidly growing trend in businesses going green. Green business strategies are no longer solely associated with niche markets, such as grocery stores and automobile companies; your medical practice can be environmentally friendly too. Going green not only improves the environment, but it is also practical, cuts costs and demonstrates your concern for the community and environmental health.

When discussing the issues in environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and waste management are usually the leading topics. However, many overlook the environmental benefits gained from the basic upkeep of a medical practice and the cooperation of its staff and patients. Your choices in buying heating/cooling equipment, electronics, or office equipment for your practice can have a large impact on the environment. Establishing an eco-friendly practice will help save resources, employees’ time and your office’s hard earned money.  Implementing the following concepts will lead to a greener medical practice.

Reuse and Recycle

A simple way to save up your resources is by reusing items from office supplies to eating utensils. Replace single-use cups, plates and utensils with either reusable plastic or metal utensils. Reuse folders by applying new labels over old ones.

Recycling isn’t just limited to paper, plastic and aluminum products. If you want to effectively recycle within your practice, you will want to recycle everything and anything possible. This includes plastic, glass, aluminum, paper products, cardboard, ink cartridges, electronics and electrical equipment. Start by purchasing plenty of recycling bins to have around the office. Also, try to utilize vendors that sell remanufactured or eco-friendly products. These companies use recycled and used parts, which not only keep electronic and hazardous materials out of landfills, but also are often sold at a lower price.

Go Electronic

A lot of resources, time and effort are utilized when running a paper-based practice. It requires the use of all sorts of supplies such as folders, paper, jackets, labels and shelving. The production, delivery and disposal of these materials can weigh heavily on the environment. An electronic health record (EHR) program is a convenient alternative that stores an individual patient’s medical records on a computer rather than in a paper chart.  It also allows for medical records to be easily shared or transferred to different healthcare providers. This not only fosters a standardization of care, but also avoids the paper trail involved in sending and faxing medical records.  Implementing an EHR solution can save both materials and time spent sorting through paper files, while simultaneously benefitting the environment.

Reduce Paper Usage

If an EHR system is a big stretch for your practice at the moment, there are some other ways to lessen paper consumption. Identify activities that can be accomplished online rather than on paper.  For instance, view documents online and email them instead of printing or faxing them whenever possible. Instead of handing your patients a packet with your practice’s information, have it available online on your practice’s website. Manage employee schedules, calendar of events and office policies on a web-based program or on a shared drive. Look into e-prescribing programs, receive office payments electronically and install a document imaging system to reduce unnecessary paper use.

As far as medical supplies go, you can opt for cloth linens, drapes and gowns for patients instead of using those made of paper. Even though cloth requires a higher initial cost, the cost per use of disposable paper products ends up being much more over time and leaves a greater carbon footprint.

Save Energy

A simple way to conserve energy is by studying your office’s utility bills and determining where the greatest costs lie. The cooling, heating and powering of offices contributes to a large portion of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

Electrical equipment should always be in power-saving mode. However, most electronics continue to draw energy when turned off or in ‘sleep mode’ if still plugged into an outlet. This small usage of energy can quickly add up, so be sure to unplug all electronics overnight. Another tip is to change all your light bulbs to Compact Fluorescent Bulbs. These bulbs use 75% less energy for the same amount of light and last much longer than normal light bulbs. Utilize motion sensors for bathroom and storage room lighting and invest in thermostat timers that automatically adjust the temperatures overnight and on weekends.

Conserve water

While inspecting your utility bills, it is also wise to conduct a water audit to get an idea of how much water the practice expends and how much of it goes to waste. Looking for leaky faucets, installing faucets with low-flow and seeing how much water the toilet uses for each flush are some ways to lower your practice’s water waste. Instead of using bottled water or a water cooler, opt to use tap water by purchasing a filtration system for your office. Also, most practices are capable of safely turning their hot water heaters off and on. Turning off the heater can help reduce power and costs.

Proper disposal of Pharmaceuticals

The disposal of unwanted or expired pharmaceutical products has become a large concern as it can contaminate the local water supply. This occurs when patients flush or discard unused medications incorrectly, allowing for pharmaceuticals to make it back into the water system. To avoid this, consider safer options for your patients to dispose of their unused drugs, such as having pharmaceutical companies take back unused medical drugs or consult your community’s hazardous waste office for other alternatives.

Involve your staff

Physicians shouldn’t be the ones solely initiating a green practice. Involving your office staff in the planning and running of an environmentally conscious program can be extremely effective. It allows them the opportunity to brainstorm ideas and collaborate, which in turn fuels the overall staff’s commitment to greener behaviors and activities.

Creating a greener medical practice is not only practical, but it can also be cost-friendly while helping your practice grow. With a little direction, dedication and coordinated effort, you can successfully reduce your medical practice’s impact on the environment.

Daphne Lefran writes on behalf of the medical practice management specialists at OmniMD.