Providence Portland Medical Center in Oregon cut greenhouse gas emissions by switching anesthetic agents

We typically think of factories and power plants when we think of greenhouse gases polluting the air, but the gases used to keep patients asleep and comfortable during surgery are many times more potent. As the gas is exhaled by a patient, it is collected and released into the atmosphere where it functions as a greenhouse gas, just like carbon dioxide.
 
Desflurane, Sevoflurane, and Isoflurane are the three anesthetic agents commonly used to put patients to sleep. Out of the three, Desflurane is the most potent greenhouse gas and also the most expensive. Once released into the atmosphere, Desflurane persists for 14 years.  Sevoflurane is less potent and more affordable, and remains in the atmosphere for a significantly shorter time – one year.
 
By choosing to use Sevoflurane instead of Desflurane to reduce their carbon footprint, Providence Portland Medical Center reduced costs by $190,000 per year and cut gas emissions by 1,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which would be the same environmental impact as driving 1.4 million fewer miles in a Hummer.
 
These are the results from just one of our facilities – imagine the cost savings and environmental impact if all our hospitals and surgery centers optimized their choice of anesthetic agents.
 
Dr. Brian Chesebro, an anesthesiologist and physician at Providence Portland Medical Center began educating providers and other decision makers across the system about this opportunity. Dr. Chesebro explained that the use of Desflurane is the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving a fleet of 12 Humvees for the duration of each surgical procedure, whereas it is "only" half a Humvee drive if Sevoflurane is used.  Eight Providence Oregon hospitals now save about $650,000 per year and have reduced greenhouse gas emissions from anesthetics by 85 percent.

 

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