New tool connects planetary health concepts with patient care

Wednesday, 09 November, 2022

New tool connects planetary health concepts with patient care

A new teaching resource developed in collaboration between medical students and staff will connect the dots between foundational medical learning and the clinical effects of climate change.

Doctors for the Environment (DEA) believe it is crucial that the medical workforce is educated about addressing and mitigating the health effects of climate change, and that these lessons are integrated at all levels of medical education.

The new teaching tool called ‘The planetary health organ system map’ integrates the pathophysiological consequences of climate change, as a cross-cutting theme into the classical organ-systems-based medical curriculum. Planetary health refers to the health of human populations and the natural world upon which this health depends.

Developed by members of DEA from the University of Melbourne, the tool connects planetary health concepts with patient care in a way that ensures concepts are clinically relevant and can be translated into day-to-day practice.

The map also emphasises the positive health co-benefits to patients of environmentally sustainable health care.

Central to the work was the application of three models to identify and explore the relationships between broad public and planetary health content, and person-centred biophysiological mechanisms. The team’s open-access article, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, provides further methodological detail.

The planetary health organ system map also offers an example of student–faculty collaboration, empowering students as leaders and partners in learning and development of material — a known strategy to improve students’ effectiveness as learners and confidence in teaching.

Lead author Hayden Burch, now a Resident at Austin Health and Honorary of the University of Melbourne Department of Critical Care, said co-development of the curriculum map alongside faculty academics has made him confident in managing and treating patients afflicted by extreme weather-related diseases.

The curriculum map is an easy-to-use resource for medical educators to find clinically and climate-relevant teaching points in each major body system. As the ‘organ-based’ teaching approach is one that is well established across the health disciplines, including in post-University vocational education, this resource has potential widespread application.

Chair of the DEA Dr John Van Der Kallen said everyone working in health, especially doctors, needs to be aware of the link between the environment, our changing climate and health.

Van Der Kallen said the resource can be used by all educators to improve evidence-based knowledge and to give those working in health strategies to manage climate-related health impacts.

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