January 2020 Champion!

Dr. Neha Pathak

Editor, WebMD

“Telling many people about the relationship between health and the climate crisis, and telling a single patient have something in common,” says Dr. Neha Pathak – either way, you have to make it relatable.

“This is where my clinician sensibility comes in,” says Dr. Pathak, an internal medicine physician who is medical editor at WebMD, one of the world’s top healthcare websites. “When you see a patient, you want to translate the data into something actionable.”

It’s like that in telling her physician audiences about the climate crisis, Dr. Pathak says. Physicians are at the nexus of health and communication, translating the data-driven language of medicine into plain talk to encourage people toward action to protect or improve their health, she says.

Dr. Pathak has been working at WebMD at the organization’s Atlanta headquarters since 2017 writing about the climate crisis and other medical areas.

“The things that get the most engagement are personal stories that weave in health impacts that people can see in their day-to-day lives,” Dr. Pathak says.

One crucial new area of interest is the health consequences of climate change. An example: Dr. Pathak’s Medscape article in May that highlighted pediatric pulmonologist Kristie Ross of University Hospitals in Cleveland, a founder of Ohio Clinicians for Climate Action. The statewide group of health professionals, affiliated with the Medical Society Consortium for Health and Climate, advocates for healthy environmental policy.

Dr. Pathak’s story made Dr. Ross’ experience relatable by keying in on a patient experience. As Dr. Pathak writes, Dr. Ross says that a boy who played school football wound up in intensive care because of an asthma exacerbation during a game on a day with poor air quality and high pollen. The incident drove Dr. Ross toward action against the climate crisis, because conditions such as asthma worsen as the climate changes.

Dr. Pathak expects more physicians to follow Dr. Ross’ track toward new awareness and advocacy, because the climate crisis will force change in established patterns of medical thinking. And Dr. Pathak is working toward it by forming a Georgia chapter of Clinicians for Climate Action.

“Doctors increasingly will have to ask themselves whether they should be advocates against a fundamental cause of their patients’ health problems – changes in the health of the planet,” Dr Pathak says. “If we stay silent, it causes them harm in the long run,” she says.