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Sustainability in the healthcare industry

Tobias Neisecke

Tobias Neisecke works for the Brandenburg Economic Development Corporation (WFBB) as a project manager in the Berlin-Brandenburg health industry cluster - HealthCapital Photo: WFBB

For this reason, DMEA is also placing an even greater focus on the topic of sustainability this year as part of DMEA sparks.

Tobias Neisecke from the Brandenburg Economic Development Corporation (WFBB) is a project manager in the Healthcare Industry Cluster Berlin-Brandenburg - HealthCapital and is becoming increasingly involved with sustainability: "The discussion about how to become more sustainable has also taken hold of the healthcare sector. By now, word has spread that the healthcare sector has a much larger C02 footprint than one might have suspected. This is created not only in clinics, doctors' offices, and other healthcare facilities, but also in the manufacture, delivery, and disposal of medical devices. Climate and environmental legislation and regulations naturally affect the healthcare industry. Independently of this, however, many initiatives, associations and movements have been founded in recent years from within the healthcare system itself. All are pursuing the goal of making the industry more sustainable."

Disposable gloves, mouth guards, surgical materials packaged in plastic - at first glance, the healthcare system doesn't really seem sustainable simply because of the high hygiene requirements. What can be done in this area to improve sustainability?

"A medical device must be hygienically sound and safely packaged, no question about it. But still, you can put every package to the test. Isn't a smaller plastic bag or thinner film around the product sufficient? Does the outer packaging necessarily have to be colorful and printed with questionable dyes? These are the 'low hanging fruits' where everyone can start. When developing new medical devices, sustainability should be considered in the product design from the beginning. Durability, recyclability, and alternative materials for packaging-as well as the product itself-are levers for more sustainable products."

Can the digital health sector contribute to greater sustainability?

"Digital Health can help conserve resources in many places. Digitally transmitted, or cloud-accessible, MRI images can replace X-thousand burned DVDs. The use of telemedicine - for example, quite banal in the form of a video consultation - avoids energy consumption for travel and transport. Digital health applications that promote prevention or monitor patients can have a positive effect on the overall course of a disease and help to avoid serious illnesses or secondary diseases. This can lead to lower treatment costs and thus relieve the burden on the healthcare system."

Sustainable methods, work processes or even resources are often more expensive or time-consuming - are there opportunities in the healthcare industry to work sustainably and still save costs?

"It may seem so at first glance. Nevertheless, there is also a lot of movement in it. Increasingly, startups are emerging with innovative products or services. For example, AI-supported software is being used to identify process optimizations that help save resources. There are enough resourceful ideas! You just have to have the courage to implement them. Often, there is a suitable funding program that can assist with financing. Hospital purchasers are increasingly paying attention to sustainability. As a result of the crises of the last few years, the aspect of resilience is now also becoming increasingly important. Because when imported products are no longer reliably available, or only at a much higher price, there is room for rethinking. Regional production and supply chains, as well as deposit and reprocessing systems, are now (again) conceivable and competitive. During the pandemic, many bulk items, such as disposable kidney dishes from the Far East, were virtually unavailable. Clinics that then still had the old stainless steel trays stored somewhere in the warehouse were clearly at an advantage."

You are part of the Brandenburg Economic Development Board (WFBB) and work for the Berlin-Brandenburg health industry cluster - HealthCapital. What role does the topic of sustainability play in your work, where are there adjusting screws you can turn for more sustainability?

"We want to communicate that successful business, innovation and sustainability, environmental and climate protection belong together. That's why we provide information on various funding opportunities, for example. Innovation funding for research and development of new products and services is an important factor in initiating the transformation of the healthcare industry toward greater sustainability. We also provide contacts to institutions and experts who can help identify individual sustainability and savings potential. For us, this topic plays an important role. We are in the starting blocks! But of course we are also aware that there is still a long way to go for all of us."

The cluster management is a project of the Brandenburg Economic Development Corporation, funded by the state of Brandenburg and co-financed by the European Union. You can get more information about the cluster management and the work of Tobias Neisecke here.