Natural resources and raw materials are increasingly becoming a focal point for the modern healthcare industry. Healthcare costs have exploded in recent decades, placing rapidly inflating costs on the shoulders of employers, employees, and municipal infrastructure alike. In an industry where large amounts of natural resources are absolutely essential for the use of advanced hospital machines as well in performing many kinds of hospital procedures, sustainability is paramount. Aging baby boomers have also placed an increased strain on the healthcare infrastructure in the United States, accelerating the use of natural resources in addition to placing much higher demands on hospital staff.
Of particular importance to hospitals are rare earth metals, a group of 17 metals in the periodic table that are used in almost every kind of modern electronic device. The rapid industrialization of China and India since the mid-1990s has created unprecedented demand for these metals, which are used in manufacturing cellphones, televisions, computers, and portable music devices—all highly sought-after status symbols in emerging first-world economies. A number of potential solutions have been presented to address the coming rare earth metals crisis, including urban mining, a practice which involves scavenging discarded electronic devices for the valuable rare earth metals within. New research in the sciences may also shift to self-powering bioelectric devices, as well as nanotechnology using a fraction of the natural resources that are presently employed in the production of conventional electronics.
Beyond this physical shift in supply, however, there is also the necessity for a widespread shift in the consumer approach toward the problem. Discoveries of new natural resource deposits will likely create increased tension between nations, possibly provoking armed conflict or strict trade regulation. Responsible long-term use of these natural resources requires attention from individual citizens, as they are the primary decision-makers regarding whether to pursue treatment, in addition to regulations that govern hospitals’ use of specific resources. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) was meant to address some of these issues indirectly by mandating employers who have more than fifty full-time employees provide health insurance for their workers.
Hospitals in recent years have also undergone major green initiatives in which every facet of service is examined for energy efficiency. This includes hospital transport, which worldwide is responsible for a substantial portion of greenhouse gas emissions every year. Reducing hospital waste, particularly harmful chemicals and plastics, is another long-term concern as the number of hospitals worldwide continues to climb in order to meet the needs of industrializing populations.