The field of environmental health is one of the most important in health care. It has a wide variety of definitions due to a large number of factors that can affect a person’s health externally. It is possible to predict an increased occurrence of a disease when the environment suggests that the area is unsafe for human health. In recent years these factors were categorized into groups for better creation and implementation of interventions. Groups of factors like global warming, occupational hazards, pollution of the air, water, food, and soil, built environments, natural disasters, and their consequences, as well as a multitude of others, are used by various organizations and programs. My role in the elimination of environmental barriers and overall improvement of the environment often involves assessment of the environment and subsequent implementation of the chosen intervention. These interventions may include education of the patients on effective means of improving their environment, organization of the community to gather the required resources, as well as establish a stable infrastructure that would reduce or eliminate the barrier, advocacy of the issue to the government if this option is viable, and any other solution that may be effective in a specific region. Some issues may also have multiple possible interventions and even a combination of solutions if they are likely to provide a better result
Environmental health is an important aspect of health care. A variety of environmental factors can lead to both positive and negative outcomes for the patient. The definition of environment extends from physical to psychological one due to how people react to outside stimuli. People who are involved in medical professions need to be aware of the patient’s environment to have a better understanding of the patient’s condition. They are also capable of having a positive influence on it to improve the patient’s condition when environmental barriers are eliminated. This paper will provide an outline of environmental health, environmental factors that impact health, and how my colleagues and I can eliminate environmental barriers to health in various ways.
The definition of environmental health can vary between various sources. However, all definitions share certain elements between each other. They include biological, physical, and chemical factors that can affect human health. People who are involved in this field are often tasked with assessment and change of environmental factors to improve the patient’s condition. Negative environments are often connected with a higher risk of disease or infection, while positive environments can lead to a faster recovery of the patient and disease prevention. Not all definitions include social and cultural environments that often affect the psychological condition of the patient. However, these elements are often considered essential for the creation of a healthy environment (Frumkin, 2016).
The origins of environmental health can be tied to the early concept of miasma developed by Florence Nightingale during her establishment of modern nursing practices. She proposed that an unhealthy environment such as a dirty room, lack of hygiene, or unpleasant weather can lead to the development of diseases. While this idea slightly oversimplifies the current practice of environmental health, some of the interventions she proposed are still relevant today. She lived before the idea of germ theory became standard, but by examining the environments from where the majority of ill people lived, she found patterns that caused negative conditions for the patients. This process is also similar to modern environmental assessment techniques and how physicians attempt to have a positive effect on the patient’s environment. However, by gaining a better understanding of the causes of diseases, it became possible to have more targeted and effective interventions. Currently, all the major health organizations consider environmental health a major factor for the recovery of patients negatively affected by outside influences (Frumkin, 2016).
Environmental Factors that Impact Health
The range of environmental factors that impact health is very broad as the environment can differ significantly between different areas of the world. Most commonly, environmental factors are separated into five categories. Programs such as Healthy People 2020 use these categories to provide a more segmented approach to affecting them. The first is exposure to hazardous materials through food, water, soil, and air. These are some of the most common areas in which people’s health can be negatively affected. Areas that do not have access to clean water may increase the occurrence rate of dysentery, parasites, and other conditions related to unclean water. Polluted air can lead to poisonings and the development of lung diseases. Spoiled or infected food can also poison people. Finally, the polluted soil could lead to unhealthy or outright dangerous crops (“Environmental Health,” 2018).
The second series of factors are natural and technological disasters. Such disasters have a multitude of factors that can affect human health. While the initial danger comes from the physical damage that they can cause to people, from powerful winds and waves of hurricanes to debris that may fall onto people. However, they also may leave a lasting effect such as destruction of city infrastructure, poisoning the water supply, flooding of various areas, and any other consequence of damage (Frumkin, 2016).
The third factor is climate change. Climate change became a major concern over the last decade. Factors that are associated with it are major weather pattern changes, flooding of coastal regions, and changes in flora and fauna throughout the world.
The fourth group is called occupational hazards. As the name suggests, it includes any hazards located in the job environment of the person. For example, a person working with heavy machinery is in danger of accidents or malfunctions that may occur. People whose work conditions are poor are often at risk of developing various conditions including cancer (Frumkin, 2016).
The last group contains factors concerning the built environment around the person. The use of dangerous materials or low quality of construction may lead to dangerous consequences. One of the most common of such issues is the use of insulation materials like Asbestos which are connected to the development of cancer (Frumkin, 2016).
My Role in Improving/Eliminating Environmental Barriers to Health
My role in improving environments and eliminating environmental barriers to health is represented by a variety of interventions that I can apply during my practice. The first step of the majority of interventions is the assessment of the environment to find the environmental barriers to health that are present in the specified environment. One of the more common themes in recent years concerns occupational hazards present in health care institutions such as hospitals and clinics. One of the possible solutions is increased attention to the disposal of medical waste. Improper approach to it may lead to harmful consequences such as infections (Ndejjo et al., 2015).
Another possible way of improving the environment is focusing on solutions to low access to clean water. These situations may involve a variety of locations. Some of the most common are rural areas without plumbing or any other water sources. They may be located domestically or abroad, as humanitarian efforts of nurses may include foreign countries. Also, areas where existing water sources were poisoned, polluted, or destroyed due to natural disasters also require similar solutions. Due to the recent increase of hurricane activity across the globe, and the devastation it brought to islands, and coastal cities, this issue became especially critical. There are multiple approaches that I can take to eliminate that environmental barrier to health. The first is providing patients with education on how to gather and store clean water. The second is organizing the community around the issue to find resources available or establishing a better water purification process. The third is to advocate for the government to establish a safe water supply to the region (Alexander, Canclini, Fripp, & Fripp, 2017).
Summary and Conclusion
The importance of environmental health for modern medicine is clear. A great variety of environmental factors can be harmful to people. They are physical in nature, social, or psychological. The differences in various places around the world may have a higher occurrence of certain environmental factors, which puts their population at risk of developing negative conditions. Global warming, occupational hazards, pollution of food, air, water, as well as soil, and natural disasters can cause the majority of negative outcomes related to the environment around the person. They may include a multitude of diseases like cancer, lung conditions, poisoning, and a great number of others. These factors are considered a priority for various programs such as Healthy People 2020. My role is to provide assessments of the environments and implement interventions that vary from education to advocacy. The roots of environmental health theory were established more than a hundred years ago, but even some of the oldest concepts are still relevant today.
Alexander, G. K., Canclini, S. B., Fripp, J., & Fripp, W. (2017). Waterborne disease case investigation: Public health nursing simulation. Journal of Nursing Education, 56(1), 39–42.
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Frumkin, H. (2016). Environmental health: From global to local. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Ndejjo, R., Musinguzi, G., Yu, X., Buregyeya, E., Musoke, D., Wang, J.-S., … Ssempebwa, J. (2015). Occupational health hazards among healthcare workers in Kampala, Uganda. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2015(1).