AHRQ Views: Blog posts from AHRQ leaders
Healthcare, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and AHRQ
Healthcare professionals can’t afford to look only at the patient in front of us anymore. When we look up, we don’t have to look far to see the impact of climate change on health. Climate change contributes to the heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, flooding, and infrastructure failures that we see in the news every day. These each have significant physical and behavioral health consequences and place increased demands on healthcare systems right when they are also struggling to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both climate change and COVID-19 have highlighted and exacerbated long-standing racial, ethnic, and economic health disparities, with disproportionate harm visited on the most vulnerable populations.
More than 200 medical journals recently issued a joint statement calling for emergency action on climate change, not only from governments, but also from healthcare professionals and systems. The authors urge systems to prepare to respond to climate change’s effects, and also to acknowledge and address their role in contributing to climate change through their direct emissions, supply chain decisions, and investments in the fossil fuel industry. The Biden administration shares this urgency, issuing an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad and establishing an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
AHRQ’s mission is to produce evidence to make healthcare safer, higher quality, more accessible, equitable, and affordable. It is increasingly clear that the Agency cannot fulfill this mission without incorporating research and action on climate change and environmental justice into our work. Although AHRQ has done some work in the climate arena, including analyses exploring the health impacts of wildfires and hurricanes, this critical topic is largely a new space for AHRQ and we want to approach it in a smart, effective way.
We’re very interested in your input on how AHRQ can have the greatest impact in addressing climate change and environmental justice through our core competencies of health systems research, practice improvement, and data & analytics. Specifically, we want to explore how we can best use our resources to help build the healthcare system’s resilience to climate threats, reduce the healthcare industry’s contributions to climate change while increasing sustainability, and address environmental justice issues in healthcare.
Please visit AHRQ’s official Request for Information to learn more about what we’re looking for, and submit your ideas to ClimateChange@ahrq.hhs.gov. Your feedback will help guide AHRQ’s strategic planning and future efforts in this area. We will no longer look away from this challenge.
David Meyers is Acting Director of AHRQ. Brent Sandmeyer is a social science analyst in AHRQ’s Center for Evidence and Practice Improvement.