At the end of a patient visit, gastroenterologist Dr. Todd Sack says he’ll always impart some advice.
Although usually it’s medically related, Sack’s advice deals with ways his patients can help the environment.
He may tell a patient to return their old prescription bottle to the pharmacy or recycle it, make healthy eating choices or take a walk outside.
“My patient visit may be 15, 20 minutes,” Sack said. “But I take 15 seconds to add one small pointer, things they can do for their health, but also the health of the environment. And all physicians can do that.”
His interest in the environment and climate science started in 1998 when former Mayor John Delaney appointed him to the 10-member Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board, which, by charter, is required to include two doctors.
Serving on the board, Sack learned about environmental policy. He became fascinated with the intersection of patient health, the environment and the economy.
He did research on his own by reading books and scientific journals, and as a doctor, he said those concepts were easier for him to understand.
“My conclusion is that if we health professionals ignore environmental health, which includes also the social determinants of health, then we are missing out on important ways to improve the health of our individual patients and of our communities,” Sack said.
For almost 20 years, Sack has been speaking to groups, including a luncheon Oct. 16 of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce and the Beaches Division of the JAX Chamber, about climate change and resiliency.
Sack said climate change and its relationship with human health is starting to be taught in medical schools. The American Medical Association and other medical organizations are backing efforts for those lessons.
Rising temperatures and extreme weather events can be linked to heat-related deaths, heart attacks, cancers and infectious diseases, Sack said.
Sack began practicing gastroenterology at the Borland-Groover Clinic in Jacksonville in 1988.
In 2017, he left his private practice to become a volunteer physician with We Care Jacksonville, a nonprofit that provides free health care to low income and uninsured patients.
He also serves on the Florida chapter board of the Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Sack started MyGreenDoctor.org, a site designed to help doctors and their practices become more eco-friendly.
Much like the advice he imparts to his patients, Sack said the program teaches doctors how to save money by adopting environmentally sustainable habits within their practices.
It also encourages doctors to share the tips with their patients. Eleven medical societies nationwide are involved and the program is being used in 53 countries, Sack said.
“It’s pretty unusual for physicians to know about (climate science). Physicians are like all busy professionals and business people. To take even a few minutes out of a week to think about this other topic is quite difficult,” Sack said. “My Green Doctor has an advantage that we can show people how they can save money by thinking about this.”
More significant steps Sack said he’s taken include installing solar panels on his home.
Several of the Borland - Groover offices are certified “green” offices by My Green Doctor, meaning they use energy efficiently, recycle and speak with patients about sustainability.
Sack’s goal isn’t just for physicians to become more environmentally friendly. He said no matter the profession, there are benefits to making changes.
“If you’re a banker or a real estate developer or an industrialist, that relationship of your economy and the health of your business and the health of your people should be keen in everyone’s mind because it’s important to the success of our community,” Sack said.