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Doctors Key to Promoting Positive Impacts of Healthy Building Design, Construction & Maintenance

CHICAGO, Ill. — The critical connection between a healthy building environment and patient health is often missed by the one group of professionals who may matter most – physicians, according to a new SmartMarket report by McGraw Hill Construction sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, United Technologies Corp. and other partners.

“It’s becoming clear from this initial research that doctors and other health professionals must engage with architects and the design community in a major way if we are to be successful in improving public health through design,” said AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA. “We look forward to furthering that dialogue with physicians and to helping support additional research into this critical public health issue.”

The survey results were announced at the opening session of the American Institute of Architects’ Annual Convention.

The report, “The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings: The Market Drivers and Impact of Building Design on Occupant Health, Well-Being and Productivity,” finds that though 18 percent of homeowners say that doctors are their primary source for information on healthy home products and decisions, only 53 percent of pediatricians, 32 percent of family doctors/general practitioners and 40 percent of psychiatrists believe that buildings even impact patient health. Only 15 percent report receiving any information on this connection, but the results also reveal that a key challenge is not just getting information to them but gaining their attention in ways that would alter their perspective, with nearly a quarter (22 percent) reporting that more information would likely not change what they do today.

The study suggests that getting more information to this group is essential to help create demand for more healthy building design and construction, given the limited understanding that physicians demonstrate of building health impacts. Physician awareness and recommendation of more fundamental healthy building design and construction practices that connect with the health risks of most concern to public health—lack of exercise, chronic stress, poor diet and obesity—could help create the market demand needed to drive investment, but only if physicians expand their engagement with these issues.

Today, the only issue the medical practitioners agree is a link between buildings and health is around mold and mildew, but that is only one of a plethora of factors in building decisions that could impact health.

“Most homeowners rely on family members and friends or colleagues to influence their choices of healthy products and practices, with very few seeking advice from builders, remodelers, contractors and architects who know most about how these decisions affect the occupant. As the construction industry increases its engagement in healthy building, this represents an opportunity for industry professionals to assist clients in making decisions in order to positively impact their health,” said Harvey M. Bernstein, F.ASCE, LEED AP, vice president, Industry Insights and Alliances for McGraw Hill Construction.

The report also finds that, contrary to the position held by physicians, the general public is aware of the link between buildings and people’s health.

  • 63 percent of homeowners believe products and practices they use at home affect their health, with the majority (50 percent) pointing to impact on allergies, followed by asthma/respiratory illnesses (32 percent) and headaches/migraines (30 percent).
  • 90 percent of homeowners believe school buildings affect student health/productivity, and 95 percent believe hospital buildings and operations affect patient/staff health and productivity.

Human resource executives also recognize the link between buildings and health, with its top emphasis on spaces that encourage social interaction. Sixty-six percent of their companies consider spaces for social interaction when making leasing decisions today, and even more (75 percent) expect it will be considered in the future. Yet, the architect community is not as attuned to this need, with creating spaces for social integration being eighth in a list of key factors. This gap suggests the industry needs to be more sensitive to this issue given how the millennial and subsequent generations work, learn and interact and thus, improve their productivity.

The report cites the need for further investigation into the specific benefits of different design, construction and product decisions, in order to overcome obstacles to investments in these areas that influence health and well-being.

The full report can be accessed at http://www.aia.org/practicing/AIAB104164.

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Posted July 15, 2014

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