Physicians Tackle Climate’s Health Effects | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

According to several recent surveys, the majority of practicing physicians recognize that climate change is happening, believe it is at least in part caused by humans, and already see it affecting their patients, said Mona Sarfaty, MD, MPH, director of the program on climate and health at George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication in Fairfax, Virginia.


Sarfaty coauthored the surveys, in which members of the National Medical Association, the American Thoracic Society, and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology participated. Many physicians said they believed they had a responsibility to inform the public and their patients on climate-related health effects but wanted to be better informed.


These findings led Sarfaty and her colleagues to form a consortium of medical societies. Last November the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, now consisting of 12 medical societies that represent almost half of US physicians, launched its website with a mission to inform physicians, the public, and policy makers about the harmful effects of climate change and various ways to find solutions.


Linda Rudolph, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Climate Change and Health at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, California, also has surveyed physicians and public health professionals about climate change and health. Many said they’re reluctant to speak out because they lack expertise, while some also felt they don’t have the time, mandate, funding, or resources to address it. The politicization of the issue also has influenced some to avoid it.


Rudolph and her colleagues have been working in California to introduce physicians to the array of potential roles that medical providers can play in issues of climate change and health. For example, they can integrate climate change into patient education, management, and care protocols; speak to their communities and peers; or work to help green their organizations and institutions. The Center for Climate Change and Health created A Physician’s Guide to Climate Change, Health, and Equity, which pulls together a wide range of information on the topic.


“We’re also trying to identify individuals who want to become advocates, champions on climate and health,” said Rudolph. Although the majority of people in the United States now think global climate change is happening, many remain unaware of the immediate threats climate change poses. But Rudolph and others have noted that as trusted messengers, physicians can play an important role in informing their patients, their community, and policy makers.


She said her group has helped some physicians speak on Spanish-language radio programs in Stockton, California, introducing the general subject of climate change and health and then presenting a more specific segment on climate change and mental health.


The Center for Climate Change and Health also hosts the US Climate and Health Alliance, a national network of individuals and medical and health organizations. Through the alliance, Rudolph and her colleagues have identified groups who see climate change and health as a critical issue and are taking action in their local communities.