Health IT and Sustainability – #HITsm Chat Topic

We’re excited to share the topic and questions for this week’s #HITsm chat happening Friday, 8/14 at Noon ET (9 AM PT). This week’s chat will be hosted by Chuck Webster, MD (@wareflo) on the topic of “Health IT and Sustainability“.

Healthcare’s next big workflow challenge is sustainability. Workflow is a series of tasks, consuming resources, achieving goals. “Consuming resources” is core to every model of sustainability,  including “meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Wiki) And “achieving goals” in healthcare, especially the many sustainability goals directly affecting human health, requires health IT technology.

Recently healthcare became the largest industry in the world’s largest economy. Healthcare employs more people than manufacturing, retail, real estate, or transportation. If heathcare was a country, it would be the 13th largest source of greenhouse gas. As much as a third of healthcare’s almost four trillion dollar economy is waste. Our current healthcare system is unsustainable. Our burnout is unsustainable. Our single-use plastic debris is vast. Our carbon footprint is massive. And health IT can help in many aspects.

Just as in other industries where IT is part of the problem and part of the solution, health IT is likewise implicated. Many health IT companies have job positions with “Sustainability” in a job title, anywhere from director up to even C-level. Sustainability is not just about climate, it is also about efficient use of non-renewable resources and effective waste management. For example, check out the #HIMSSsustainability hashtag on Twitter for almost 200 HIMSS conference exhibitors engaged in sustainability initiatives.

Health IT conferences annually loft many hundreds of millions of pounds of carbon into the air, via attendee and exhibitor travel, lodging, and shipping. But the health IT technologies they promote, such as telehealth and virtual care, promise to reduce our collective carbon footprint by billions or even trillions of pounds. In any case, sustainability, environment, and climate are coming to healthcare and health IT in a big way. This is particularly true as health IT expands internationally since long-haul international flights generate a majority of the carbon associated with travel. Further, in some regions of the world, such as Europe and Scandinavia, organizations simply won’t do business with you unless they believe you are as passionate about environmental sustainability as they are.

Human behavior affects our environment and climate, which in turn affects our health. Health IT can play an important role in making this a virtuous cycle. For example, the 2nd edition of Sustainability for Healthcare Management has an early important chapter on health information technology, and IT is arguably relevant to every other chapter, from waste to transportation to food, energy, safety, purchasing, water, and pollution. Further, one can equally imagine IT applications addressing each chapter of Enviromedics: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health, from public health, disaster, and mental health informatics to air, water, and food security.

So, where to start? Is there a thoughtful and comprehensive framework within which we may understand synergies between sustainability and health IT? Indeed there is, the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Some companies supplying health IT technology are already aligning their sustainability efforts to subsets of these goals. Many of these companies specifically highlight in their marketing materials which UN SDGs they support, including statistics such as how much they have reduced their carbon footprint over time or how many tons of landfill they have avoided through innovative recycling programs.

SDG Goal 3, Good Health and Well Being is obviously relevant to health IT. But think about how important social determinants of health (SDoH) are becoming to health IT and then think about which SDGs pertain to SDoH. Poverty: check! Hunger: check! And so on for many SDGs. Others of these, such as climate action, responsible consumption and production, and gender equality, clearly pertain to potential health IT topics, from decarbonizing health IT conferences to using blockchain to manage supply chains and waste to improving health IT education and diversity.

One important sustainability accounting framework is the Triple Bottom Line. Instead of just one bottom line, profit, there are three: Planet (the environment and Earth), People (everyone inhabiting the Earth), and Profit (financial and overall long-term viability of the organization). (I have to mention here I am the only pre-med accounting major I know, part of why I am interested in sustainability accounting frameworks.) Think about the relevance of People and Profit to such topics as physician burnout and health information exchange sustainability.

Not only do health IT companies have Triple Bottom Lines, healthcare will increasingly rely on health IT to maximize its own Triple Bottom Line. Health IT is both part of the sustainability problem and part of the sustainability solution. Navigating the relationship between the former and the latter is key. The only smart response is to study and understand the issues and aim to proactively get ahead of them. Healthcare is no exception. And health IT can play a special role.

#HITsm T1 What is your sustainability passion? Elaborate! Does it fall into one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals category? Which one?

Join us for this week’s HITsm chat, as we explore health IT and sustainabiliy.

Topics for this week’s #HITsm Chat:

T1: What is your sustainability passion? Elaborate! Does it fall into one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals category? Which one? #HITsm

T2: How might health IT help achieve your personal sustainability vision? #HITsm

T3: You are approached by a health IT company to help them develop a sustainability initiative and to tell their sustainability story… Does it make sense? Can it be profitable? Where would you start? #HITsm

T4: If you were to nominate a company doing business in the health IT space for its role in helping to achieve one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, who you would nominate and why? #HITsm

T5: What about sustainability and health IT conferences… thoughts? How can we make them more sustainable? How might they support one or more SDGs? #HITsm

Side Note: As we end the #HITsm chat, Chuck has setup a simple virtual world for the #HITsm community to connect:  Join us at the end of the chat and test out what a future virtual conference could look like.

Bonus: Has caring about sustainability changed something important about you? How you consume? How you vote? Etc. #HITsm

Upcoming #HITsm Chat Schedule

8/21 – Off Topic: Coronavirus Community Connection and Relaxation
Hosted by John Lynn (@techguy) from @hcittoday

8/28 – Health Equity: The Missing Aim
Hosted by Corinne Stroum (@healthcora)

9/4 – TBD
Hosted by Mich Parker, CISO (@mitchparkerciso)

9/11 – TBD
Hosted by Sarah Bennight (@SarahBennight) from @StericycleComms

9/18 – TBD
Hosted by Stephanie Guadian (@StephanieG_ECG) and Alexia Severson (@AlexiaS_ECG) from @ElectronicCare

We look forward to learning from the #HITsm community! As always, let us know if you’d like to host a future #HITsm chat or if you know someone you think we should invite to host.

If you’re searching for the latest #HITsm chat, you can always find the latest #HITsm chat and schedule of chats here.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.