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by Miriam Mirza

A session that attracted a large audience at this year’s ECR in Vienna was “The green hospital: enhancing sustainability”. At a time when global environmental problems and sustainability are increasingly coming to the forefront, it is imperative that medical disciplines, including radiology, also rethink their role and responsibility. How can this be organized sensibly and effectively by those working in radiology? That was the overarching theme of the session.

‘We are currently prioritizing safety, cost savings, and convenience over sustainability,’ Professor Andrea Grace Rockall, Clinical Chair of Radiology at Imperial College London, UK said during her lecture  focusing on how to make more effective use of department resources.

Despite major challenges, such as the reorganization of buildings, supply chains, and energy sources towards sustainability, radiologists can do a lot in their daily work, she added.

At her institution, computers were left switched on, due to instructions to ensure that urgent updates/security patches could be implemented without downtime during the day. An internal investigation showed that 30 percent of these computers were idle for long periods. To protect resources, a software program was installed for a centralized automatic shutdown of these affected computers, with impressive results. £500,000 were saved on electricity in the first year alone after installation. ‘Imagine the investment we can make if we act consistently,’ she told the audience.

Rockall spoke in favor of establishing mandatory courses on sustainability in hospitals – similar to those that already exist for hygiene, for example – to inform employees and motivate them to get involved with their ideas and in corresponding projects. ‘We have had very good experiences with this,’ she reported. She also suggested a type of certification by the ESR for hospitals whose radiology departments work in a particularly sustainable manner.

Reduce waste and optimize existing resources

Moreno Zanardo, Ph.D., Post-doc Research Fellow at Università degli Studi di Milano, argued in favor of more prudent use of existing resources in his presentation on safe and sustainable use of contrast media.

Moreno Zanardo

Zanardo took a closer look at contrast media containing iodine, the consumption of which will continue to increase worldwide in the future according to experts. He also highlighted the environmentally harmful potential of contrast media, which collects in hospital wastewater. His message to his colleagues was clear: ‘We have to take responsibility. Our profession plays an important role in sustainability.’ By reducing waste, implementing sustainable procurement management, and optimizing the use of contrast media, one could to reduce overall consumption and thus achieve many positive effects, he concluded.

An important step in this process is educating and training radiologists and radiology staff in sustainability, Ana Luisa Soares, a radiation therapist at the Portuguese Oncology Institute of Porto, explained in the following talk. ‘Climate change is also changing the healthcare sector,’ she warned. ‘Radiologists need to expand their knowledge in this regard, but could achieve and initiate many changes through their behavior, attitude, and commitment.’ In principle, however, she was optimistic, as her research showed interest in greater sustainability among radiologists is very high.

Avoid unnecessary examinations

Elin Kjelle, an associate professor and researcher in radiography at the University of South-Eastern Norway, then emphasized that greater sustainability also means taking a closer look at the way radiologists have been working up to now, and questioning whether examinations are really necessary. Kjelle appealed to her colleagues to never lose sight of the benefits of an imaging examination in the course of treatment and, above all, to avoid unnecessary examinations or those with little benefit wherever possible.

Elin Kjelle

Overall the session highlighted the growing importance of sustainability in the medical sector, particularly in radiology. Even small measures can achieve major savings, and the sustainable use of resources has a positive impact on the environment. There is a need for education and training in sustainability and for radiologists to take responsibility by avoiding unnecessary examinations. Radiologists are increasingly interested in the topic, and there is a willingness to rethink and commit to greater sustainability, the panel concluded.