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Why your next doctor visit could include a conversation about climate change

Former Governor John Lynch stands with members of New Hampshire Healthcare Workers for Climate Action in front of the State House
Mara Hoplamazian
New Hampshire Healthcare Workers for Climate Action, seen here celebrating its kickoff event in 2021, is teaming up with Dartmouth Health to lead workshops on the intersection of climate and healthcare.

As extreme weather events become more common, some New Hampshire healthcare workers are trying to learn how to help their patients adapt to these and other impacts of climate change.

Dozens of local healthcare workers gathered virtually Wednesday for the latest installment in this six-part course, hosted by Dartmouth Health in collaboration with New Hampshire Health Care Workers for Climate Action. Among those in attendance were social workers, physicians and state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan.

The latest session focused on the dangers of extreme heat, which can be more intense and dangerous in low-income, densely populated areas that are disproportionately home to people of color. It was also well-timed, as New Hampshire is poised to experience unseasonably high temperatures later this week.

Dr. Sarah Crockett, an emergency physician and the founder of the Alliance for Climate and Health at Dartmouth Health, said primary care providers should see it as part of their job to make sure their patients are prepared for these kinds of weather events. That could mean letting people know where local cooling centers are located, and identifying patients who might be at higher risk for heat-related illness because of chronic conditions or certain medications.

“We need to make sure we're having these conversations with our patients, making sure they're aware of the risk, making sure they have the resources necessary,” Crockett said.

Future workshops are expected to touch on how climate change is influencing infectious diseases and the health impacts of air pollution.

In addition to offering more specialized guidance on these topics, the course is also meant to teach healthcare workers how to effectively advocate for climate action and reduce the health impacts of climate change in New Hampshire.

Dr. Robert McLellan, an occupational and environmental medicine physician at Dartmouth Health, hopes the workshops will help healthcare professionals feel more comfortable talking with their patients about the connection between climate change and certain health conditions.

“One of the more common questions that patients ask me is ‘Why? Why am I sick?’” he said. “We need to be prepared to tell them why they are sick.”

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