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Monash: Health impacts of climate change need urgent study

Monash University researchers have identified significant gaps in how we record and understand the impact of climate change on human health, as evidenced by a recent study.

The study, conducted by a team led by Monash University’s Nursing and Midwifery Associate Professor Zerina Lokmic-Tomkins, has highlighted the urgent need to incorporate real-time data on the effects of climate-driven events on human health, healthcare workers, and entire healthcare systems.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, the research underscores the imperative of adding key climate-related concepts, including terms like “heatwave” and “drought”, into standardized medical terminologies.

A Call to Action

In the face of escalating global climate challenges, the Monash study rings alarm bells. “Climate change is a mounting threat to global environmental sustainability and public health,” warns Associate Professor Zerina Lokmic-Tomkins.

She added: “Current clinical terminologies are insufficient. They don’t fully encompass the breadth of hazards linked to climate change, especially those tied to environmental and weather-related elements.”

Such shortcomings, she explained, impede our understanding of how climate-induced natural disasters influence human health, the delivery of healthcare in disaster scenarios, and crafting interventions for healthcare systems during emergencies.

International Standards Lacking

The research delved into the capacity of existing clinical terminologies to encapsulate the impacts of climate-driven crises on health and healthcare services. The study assessed how the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction-International Science Council (UNDRR-ISC)’s Hazard Information Profiles (HIP) matched up with SNOMED CT International, a predominant clinical terminology system used in electronic health records.

The findings: A dire need for a more expansive SNOMED CT International that incorporates specific geographical and regional hazards, especially those most prevalent in countries severely impacted by climate change.

“An inclusive approach, which encompasses a multitude of global viewpoints and inputs, will allow clinical terminology to mirror worldwide health requisites more accurately, bolstering disaster readiness and reactive measures,” stated Lokmic-Tomkins.

The Gaps Revealed

Surprisingly, the team discovered that hazards connected to meteorological, hydrological, and even geohazard factors are inadequately represented in available clinical terminologies. “The omission of terms like ‘heatwave’ and ‘drought’ in SNOMED CT International, which have now intensified due to climate change, is particularly alarming,” Lokmic-Tomkins emphasized.

Furthermore, the study pointed out disparities in the global health information systems, especially in regions where health infrastructures aren’t equipped to employ standardized terminologies. This lack of standardization compounds the difficulties of delivering essential care to the most vulnerable in areas with limited resources, further thwarting sustainable healthcare initiatives.

Moving Forward

Associate Professor Lokmic-Tomkins expresses a hopeful note, “Our journey has only begun. By identifying and addressing these inadequacies in clinical terminologies, we pave the way towards resilient healthcare and communal structures, preparing them for the rising occurrences and intensities of climate change-induced calamities.”

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