With 16 of the last 17 years reported as the warmest on record, experts advise we begin adjusting to warming temperatures. However, adapting to warmer days involves more than just managing the heat—warmer temperatures could potentially correlate with an increase in catastrophic weather events, new diseases, poor air quality, increased health risks, and more. Many healthcare organizations have felt the impact of increasing natural disasters in recent years, and if you haven’t already, you should be asking if your organization is prepared to adapt to the potential threats that warming temperatures could bring.
Temperatures Are Trending Upward in the U.S.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) reports an increase in record-breaking weather extremes over the past several years. Citing temperatures from the last few years, they report, “2014 became the warmest year on record globally; 2015 surpassed 2014 by a wide margin; and 2016 surpassed 2015.”
The Global Change Research Act of 1990 requires the USGCRP to produce a report every four years to address the findings of the program, the effects of global change, and the current and predicted trends in global changes in climate. Both this report and a separate report published by USGCRP in 2016 discuss how a shifting climate has already and could further impact human health. Healthcare organizations positioned to adapt to changing trends in areas like technology and medical science should also consider the following as potential risks and vulnerable areas that will need focused attention in the future.
Hotter Temperatures Can Increase Health Risks
Warmer temperatures are expected to lead to an increase in illness and deaths resulting from heat, particularly among vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, and economically disadvantaged groups. Occupational hazards are at risk of increasing in correlation with hotter temperatures—the risk of heatstroke among farmers, construction workers, and other outdoor laborers is likely to increase if temperatures continue to rise.
As USGCRP’s report suggests, loss of internal temperature control can result in the following, “heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia in the presence of extreme heat, and hypothermia and frostbite in the presence of extreme cold.” USGCRP also reported that extreme temperatures can worsen chronic conditions, and there is an association of prolonged exposure with “increased hospital admissions for cardiovascular, kidney, and respiratory disorders.”
Temperature changes can also affect the quality of the air we breathe. With changes in weather patterns resulting from a shifting climate, the levels and location of outdoor air pollutants can also change. Changes to outdoor air quality ultimately affect indoor air quality, including the air we breathe in our homes, places of work, schools, and hospitals. Regarding air quality, the 2016 USGCRP report states, “Poor air quality, whether outdoors or indoors, can negatively affect the human respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons can increase allergic sensitization and asthma episodes.” Longer allergy seasons, an increase in respiratory disease, and more temperature-related illnesses may be part of the new normal, something for which healthcare organizations must prepare.
This blog post excerpts a HealthStream article with the same title. It also includes:
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