Environmental impacts of a digital health and well-being service in elderly living schemes

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Abstract

Over the past decade, digitalization and digital technologies (DTs) have undergone rapid evolution, transforming how goods and services are produced and consumed in modern societies. Health and well-being sectors have embraced this digital revolution. Besides the economic and social benefits, digitalization can significantly enhance patient diagnostics and prognostics while improving overall service efficiency. To ensure long-term sustainability, it is important to assess and reduce the environmental impacts of digital services. This article examines the life cycle impacts of a digital service implemented in three elderly living schemes (ELSs) located in the United Kingdom (UK). The digital service consists of six electronic devices (EDs) that enable communication between residents, visitors, staff, and offsite monitoring (OM). The equipment is connected using Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology, which includes smart network switch and uninterruptable power supply units. The digital service's global warming potential (GWP) was estimated at 718–741 kg CO2 eq./resident for two of the ELSs and 1509 kg CO2 eq./resident for a third ELS, considering a service period of 20 years. The reason for the significant difference is the greater use of air conditioner (A/C) units to cool down server rooms and fewer residents in the third scheme. The consumption of electricity was found to be the main contributor to most of the environmental impacts. However, in certain categories such as mineral resource scarcity, freshwater eutrophication, and freshwater and marine ecotoxicity potentials, printed circuit boards (PCBs) were the main contributors. A sensitivity analysis considering different national electricity mixes demonstrated that the French electricity grid promoted the reduction in 14 impact categories, whereas the German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese grids increased on average impacts on most categories. Another sensitivity analysis demonstrates that reducing A/C unit running time by 28% resulted in an average impact reduction of 5.5%, becoming equivalent to the results obtained for the French electricity grid. Finally, extending the expected lifespan of electronic equipment by 20% yielded the highest average decrease in environmental impacts (8.1%). While digitalization has the potential to enhance patient healthcare and reduce costs, it is crucial to carefully assess its environmental impacts and implement mitigation strategies to ensure sustainable development in the healthcare sector.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100161
JournalCleaner Environmental Systems
Volume12
Early online date28 Dec 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2024

Keywords

  • Digitalization
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Information and communication technology
  • Health sector
  • Digital infrastructure
  • Circular economy

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