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Doctors Are the Key to Promoting Healthy Building Design, New Study Says

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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. The study was sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, United Technologies Corp. and other partners.

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“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. “We look forward to furthering that dialogue with physicians and to helping support additional research into this critical public health issue.”

The report, titled “The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings: The Market Drivers and Impact of Building Design on Occupant Health, Well-Being and Productivity,” finds that although 18% of homeowners say doctors are their primary source for information on healthy home products and decisions, only 53% of pediatricians, 32% of family doctors/general practitioners and 40% of psychiatrists believe that buildings affect patient health.

Only 15% 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%) 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 make decisions in order to positively impact their health,” said Harvey M. Bernstein, 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% of homeowners believe products and practices they use at home affect their health, with the majority (50%) pointing to impact on allergies, followed by asthma/respiratory illnesses (32%) and headaches/migraines (30%).

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