Your Doctor Wants to Talk Heatwaves: Why Ignoring Climate Change is a Prescription for Disaster

Forget that old talk about the birds and the bees; your doctor might soon want to have a sit-down with you about scorching temperatures. We’re talking heat, folks, and how climate change is turning it deadly.

Let’s get the 411. In the quaint city of Somerville, Massachusetts, healthcare heroes at Cambridge Health Alliance got a heads-up this summer that could save lives. No, it wasn’t about a new wonder drug or therapy—it was an email alerting them that local temperatures were hitting the 80s.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: 80s in the summer? That’s beach weather, not a crisis! But the science is clear. Such early heat in June increases heat-related hospital visits and deaths in the area. You heard that right: It’s not just the Phoenixes and Las Vegas of the world that need to worry.

This email nudge is part of a groundbreaking pilot project by Climate Central and Harvard University’s C-CHANGE, making sure medical professionals have their stethoscopes tuned to the climate. And guess what? They aren’t just focusing on the Northeast. Doctors and nurses from 12 community-based clinics in California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin are in on this life-saving action.

This ain’t your grandma’s heatwave, people. We’re in a whole new climate reality, as Ashley Ward from Duke University puts it: “This might very well be the coolest summer for the rest of our lives.” Let that sink in for a moment.

So why the sudden interest from healthcare workers in the weather? Well, because heat doesn’t discriminate, but it sure as hell affects some folks more than others. We’re talking older adults, outdoor laborers, and people with pre-existing conditions like heart disease or diabetes. Even those without stable housing or air conditioning, and athletes young enough to think they’re invincible. Let’s not forget pregnant people, too; the heat can make an already tricky situation even more complicated.

But here’s the kicker. If you think healthcare systems are all over this like they are with flu shots or blood pressure checks, think again. Most hospitals and clinics are still struggling to send heat alerts to their patients. What the actual… right? Especially at a time when healthcare resources are stretched thin fighting other battles like COVID-19.

Dr. Rebecca Rogers, a primary care physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, is taking things a step further. She’s helping her patients understand what heat can do to them. One of her patients, Luciano Gomes, a construction worker, was clueless about the early signs of heat exhaustion until she stepped in with useful tips.

Let’s get this straight: We need more education. We need doctors, nurses, and yes, even pharmacists, to get proactive, to get out there and talk to people. Only about half of Americans took precautions to avoid harm during heatwaves, according to one study. It’s time we change that stat for good.

If you’re still not convinced, remember, that heat is now the leading weather-related cause of death in the U.S. We need our healthcare systems to step up their game. This initiative is a stellar start, but there’s more work to be done. And, of course, the root cause—climate change—can’t be ignored. Moving away from fossil fuels isn’t just an environmentalist’s daydream; it’s a matter of public health.

So, next time you’re in for your annual check-up, and your doctor starts talking heatwaves instead of cholesterol levels, listen up. It might just save your life, or someone else’s. And let’s remember, we’ve got the power to turn the thermostat down on this climate crisis.