Emergency physician creates sustainable immediate care centers in Chicago
Dr. Ted Shieh’s environmental awareness began during his childhood.
“My environmentalism started when an oil tanker crashed off the northern shore of Taiwan, spilling crude oil onto the beaches where I spent weekends in my childhood,” he recalls. His family then moved to Southern California, where he further “witnessed the devastating effect of untreated sewage runoff on the coastal marine ecosystem.”
These childhood events sparked a lifelong passion for protecting marine ecosystems and environmental advocacy. “In my adult life, I devote my free time to educating the public on the human impact on marine ecology at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium as a coral reef diver,” he says.
Shieh first connected his commitment to environmental protection to health care when Dr. Amy Collins visited his emergency department at Westlake Hospital in her role as a health care sustainability consultant.
“While working a shift, I noticed Dr. Collins, a fellow emergency medicine physician, walking around my department looking into our waste containers and red bag bins,” he remembers. “This made quite the impression on me! I then learned that there was tremendous work to be done to make health care more sustainable.”
Inspired by this encounter, Shieh joined his hospital green team and attended his first CleanMed. With the knowledge he obtained, he went on to lead their green team. Under his leadership, his hospital received two Practice Greenhealth Environmental Excellence Awards. Since then, Shieh has spoken annually at CleanMed and is known for his creative sessions, most memorably an interactive, green pharmacy game during CleanMed 2017.
Shieh brought his knowledge about sustainable health care to the DuPage Medical Group where he now works.
“I started an innovative, value-based, clinically efficient, sustainable clinical service line which has expanded rapidly, in part due to our ability to reduce resource utilization and costs by integrating sustainability into our purchasing decisions and practice management,” he says.
His achievements include saving $40,000 a year by converting to safer, non-toxic DEHP-free IV bags and tubing, and an additional $35,000 a year by switching from disposable to reusable cubicle curtains. The immediate care centers also use paper products with 100 percent recyclable fibers, biodegradable waste bags, as well as a a drug formulary reassessment process that reduces medication waste.
When asked how he did it, Shieh explains, “I advocated for our physician-led organization to adopt a set of environmental stewardship principles and created a green team which continues to drive environmental stewardship across our organization.”
Shieh finds that his understanding about the environmental determinants of health enriches his interactions with patients.
“I am always looking for opportunities to educate my patients about the links between the environment and health and believe in an upstream approach to solving health challenges,” he says. “In my daily practice I educate patients about climate change and health, avoiding environmental triggers, green pharmacy, the health benefits of sustainable diets, and the current antibiotic resistance crisis.”
Shieh is also always on the lookout for ways to reduce his environmental footprint in his personal life. He and his wife, also a sustainability professional, recently retrofitted their home, achieving Greenstar Gold Certification. They open it to the public to showcase the benefits of renewable energy.
“The work to affect change for good starts within ourselves and expands outward,” Shieh says. “Clinicians can affect the sphere of health care to be more sustainable environmentally, socially, and financially.”
Ted Shieh, M.D., is the chairman of emergency medicine/immediate care at DuPage Medical Group, founder of their green team and sustainable immediate care centers, and serves as an adviser to the Health Care Without Harm Physician Network. His interests include green pharmacy and building design, sustainable food systems, and the integration of sustainability into clinical practice.