Telehealth visits cut healthcare's carbon footprint in half, Kaiser Permanente study finds 

Telehealth use has led to a steep reduction in healthcare's carbon footprint, as it decreases greenhouse gas emissions and costs, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Climate Change and Health

For the study, Northwest Permanente, part of Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, physicians and collaborators from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, analyzed telehealth visits from 2015 to 2020. They examined data including key modes of transportation to and from visits for primary care, specialty care and mental healthcare. 

Five study insights: 

1. Telehealth visits among the medical group's more than 600,000 members increased from 39.3 percent per year from 2015 through 2019 and then jumped in 2020 by 108.5 percent. 

2. The total six-year increase in telehealth visits from 2015 to 2020 was 669.6 percent, or 53.2 percent per year on average. 

3. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation to and from outpatient visits, which increased by about 6 percent between 2015 and 2019, dropped sharply in 2020. 

4. Ambulatory visit carbon intensity, a new metric that measures the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with a given outpatient visit, dropped by 51 percent. 

5. The greatest carbon intensity reduction happened in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic prompting a higher number of telehealth visits.


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