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By Laura Yan
To “do no harm” is the ethical foundation of professionalism in health care. Today, the same guiding principles are prompting many leading health systems to join the global movement for environmentally responsible health care. Philips, a leading health technology company, is working towards reducing the industry’s footprint and creating more sustainable practices. Philips has been providing health technology solutions for the past 131 years, from X-rays and diagnostic tools for hospitals to digital health tools that analyze patient data. Today, they’re tackling the health care sector’s CO2 emissions head-on by pioneering programs that emphasize the circular economy, digitalization, and energy efficiency.
The circular economy is a system designed to avoid waste, through the recycling and reuse of resources. In the EU, 71 percent of health care CO2 emissions come from the supply chain or the purchase and use of goods and services. The circular economy tries to tackle the supply chain directly: what if, instead of making, using, and disposing of materials constantly, there were ways to adapt, reuse, refurbish and recover some of the raw materials used? Philips’ commitment to the circular economy is not new — its first structured sustainability program began in 1994. Over the years, they’ve only deepened their commitment.
Reducing waste across the system
As a company, Philips works collaboratively with customers to co-create sustainable solutions and provides health systems with opportunities to realize a shared vision for positive change. This approach often begins with design — the company tackles hardware and software with circularity in mind. “At Philips, we see circularity as key to making health care more accessible and sustainable, by digitalization; designing out waste; and reusing materials, components, and equipment time and again,” says Robert Metzke, Philips global head of sustainability. For hardware, this means focusing on recovered parts and materials, using sustainable plastics, and using minimum materials in its designs. When products are created with recycling in mind, they’re easier to disassemble and more cost-effective to refurbish. By 2020, Philips had created a trade-in program for all its medical systems. By 2025, they hope to generate 25 percent of their total revenue from circular products, ensure that all newly introduced products meet their “EcoDesign” requirements, and offer a trade-in program for all professional medical equipment, meaning that the parts and supplies for all their medical equipment get responsibly repurposed.
Currently, Philips offers refurbished and/or remanufactured medical systems through their Circular Edition program, which brings cost-effective solutions to hospitals while still maintaining same-as-new quality and performance. “When you look at the system, you can’t distinguish it from a new system,” wrote Dr. P. Ehlenz, who worked at the Johanniter Hospital in Germany and used a Circular Edition MR system. “I have noticed that many internal components are also cutting-edge. Many important parts have completely been replaced and updated. Computers and software have been upgraded. Overall, the system looks like a new machine.” The Circular Edition systems offer devices like MRI, X-ray, and ultrasound machines, and let hospitals bring in medical technology that is both affordable and consistent with the quality of new devices. For their existing products, Circular Edition or not, Philips aims to provide a lifetime of upgrades and hardware support, along with preventative maintenance suggestions.
Driving digital solutions
Philips is a proponent of reducing energy use through its digital technology too, emphasizing telehealth or remote services whenever possible. Philips’ eCare Coordinator is a telehealth software platform that helps lower carbon footprints. Patients can complete pre-assigned health assessments at home, and doctors can track and monitor their vitals from afar. Patients don’t have to travel unnecessarily, and physicians can still easily identify the patients who need immediate intervention. With telehealth technology, medical providers not only reduce their carbon footprint but also give patients in remote areas better access to specialists and care. For instance, Philips partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health care access to veterans in rural areas through community-based Virtual Care Stations. These are currently in use at American Legion and Veteran of Foreign Wars Posts to bring telehealth services to veterans, giving these patients virtual face-to-face care without requiring costly individual monitoring technology.
The company also focuses on other digital solutions, such as moving its IT infrastructure to the cloud — when Philips moved its Electronic Medical Records and Care Management solutions to the cloud, they no longer needed to maintain an onsite data center, which led to a 15-ton reduction in CO2 emissions. Changes towards sustainability also come in small but vital forms from Philips’ company, such as empowering their employees to turn off their computers at night and over weekends, a small act that can reduce energy use.
Making positive change
At Philips, every innovation is driven by the company’s core belief: There’s always a way to make life better.
Philips’ multipronged approach to sustainability in health care and other industries is already working: By 2020, Philips had already achieved some of its environmental targets, like recycling 90 percent of its operational waste and sending zero waste to landfills from its industrial sites. The company is now 100 percent powered by renewable electricity, with 75 percent of its total energy consumption from renewable sources.
But Philips isn’t simply looking at its own impact and opportunities to reduce carbon footprint — they’re also working with partner organizations in public and private sectors to work towards a science-based CO2 reduction goal. Getting half of their suppliers to commit to the same sustainability goals could amplify the company’s environmental impact by seven. It would mean an even bigger global impact and a more resilient and sustainable health care system.