Four Ways Radiology Can Reduce Its Climate Change Impact

Typically, climate change (a.k.a. global warming) is associated with planes, trains, and automobiles using fossil fuels, hazy skies, and radioactive plants pushing clouds into the atmosphere. However, the radiologic industry plays a more significant role than you might imagine, and industry leaders say the time to reduce that impact is now.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, a team of industry experts, including Geraldine McGinty, M.D., MBA, president of the American College of Radiology (ACR), issued a call-to-action statement.

“Radiology is well-positioned to spearhead climate change action in our practices and the healthcare system at large. Addressing climate change provides an opportunity to improve healthcare delivery and increase value of care using a different problem-solving approach,” said the team.

The Yale University School of Medicine released data that shows 10 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions (and nine percent of harmful non-greenhouse air pollutants) originate from the United States healthcare system.

Radiology is a significant contributor to each hospital’s energy use. In Switzerland, as the team pointed out, their three CT and four MRI scanners accounted for four percent of the hospital’s overall energy use. Being more environmentally conscious isn’t specific to the industry; it’s a patent priority as well. In the United Kingdom, a survey conducted showed that 92 percent of patients also consider sustainable healthcare operations vital.

Substantial energy use: Radiology utilizes an enormous amount of energy. In the span of a year, cumulative consumption from one CT scanner can equate to five four-person households. A single MRI uses nearly as much as 26 four-person residences. If at all possible, opt for ultrasound instead. Not only is it cheaper, but it also uses less radiation and has a lower environmental impact. Moreover, using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to shorten MRI protocols can lower energy use. To further reduce the carbon footprint, implementing life cycle analyses can quantify the environmental impact of various modalities.

Standby mode: To reduce the amount of energy used by the imaging machines, use standby mode. Even when idle, they are consuming significant amounts of energy, according to the team. Cooling machines take an equal amount of energy to operate. The team recommends a 24-hour operating cycle, as well as exploring energy-efficient HVAC systems and imaging technique improvements.

Power down: Though leaving the PACS off overnight might be more convenient and efficient for workload management, the team suggests turning the machine off overnight. A hospital in Iceland left its systems on overnight and accumulated 25,040 kilowatts of energy, producing 17.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide. These levels are equivalent to the emissions produced by four passenger cars annually. To decrease costs and improve energy efficiency, powering down can be an easy way to accomplish these goals. Additionally, the team suggested reducing excess packaging in your procedures to drive down the environmental costs in production and disposal.

Opt for clean energy: The team said now is the time to shift from fossil fuels and lean toward renewable energy. As prices are dropping, several facilities are already making progress. For example, Kaiser Permanente has achieved carbon-neutrality, and Gundersen Health System is already net carbon positive.

To make these changes a reality, radiologists need to become activists, according to the team. Lobby local ACR chapters to join national efforts or reach out to specialty societies to further push environmentally sustainable radiology. Publishing carbon footprints can help other medical departments understand the environmental dangers associated with over-utilization.

Radiologists are urged to join the Medical Society Consortium on Climate Health, which includes 29 national medical societies, as suggested by the team.

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