Doctors struggle with climate-change issues

Scientific Americanand The New York Times reported this week that a small but growing number of doctors are talking to patients about climate change and public health issues such as the extended severe allergy seasons.And many agree that allergy seasons are growing longer than ever.

The highly reputable news sources published an article by Dina Fine Maron ofClimatewire, an online daily news publication that covers energy and the environment.

Maron reported that physicians are starting to speak out to patients on the issue of climate change and its effect on health. And leading medical organizations including the American Medical Association, American Lung Association and American Thoracic Society are joining in the campaign.

Gary Ewart, director of government relations at the American Thoracic Society, said talking about climate change with patients is difficult when doctors are too busy collecting family histories and addressing complex problems, writing prescriptions and recommending lifestyle changes, all in a typical 10-minute patient visit.

The American Thoracic Society, by the way, advocates research, clinical care and public health regarding respiratory disease, critical illness and sleep disorders.They also publish public informationon topics such as air pollution.

Doctors are uncomfortable focusing on what could be perceived by patients as political issues, experts say. And they struggle over the responsibility they have for prevention as well as treatment.

Still, some doctors are beginning to see the connection between large-scale environmental issues and the health of their patients.

“If we saw a river that was infected, we would tell our patients that they shouldn’t drink the water from that river or bathe in that river, and I hope they would do work as good citizens to make sure whatever was polluting that river was taken care of,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told Maron.

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