Building Health: Q&A with Robin Guenther

In her TEDMED 2014 talk, expert in sustainable healthcare design and long-time advocate for healthier healing environments Robin Guenther explored the unusual connections between health and environmental design.  We asked her a few questions to learn more.

RobinGuentherTEDMED2

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

For the past couple of decades, I have been developing a body of thinking – I’ve spoken and written a lot for healthcare audiences.  I wanted the chance to “step outside,” focus my ideas, and make a direct appeal for accelerating the transformation of healthcare practice and built environments.

Why does your talk matter now? What impact do you hope it will have?

For me, the immediacy of climate change threats, the persuasive science of toxic chemicals and health, and the rise of interest in healthier workplaces are all coming together to drive a fundamental transformation of healthcare delivery.  I want everyone in healthcare to understand that their practices do have consequences, but they have the power to drive practices that prioritize health and “heal” both people and ecosystems. At 20% of the GDP, healthcare has both enormous upstream leverage and downstream influence to create a tipping point for prioritizing health.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

I want to be remembered as being fearless about self-reflection.  It’s difficult to face the fact that healthcare is an industrial system that creates waste, dismal work environments and a load of externalized harm, but it is, nonetheless, true. I believe that only by seeing the system clearly, connecting healthcare practices with their environmental and health consequences, can we transform both healthcare and larger societal practices. I want people to believe that I played even just a minor supporting role in building a world where “health is the aim.”

Is there anything you wish you could have included in your talk?

The quest for “building health” is a global one. I wish I could have shown some examples of amazing work that is taking place globally, transforming systems of care and the buildings that support care delivery.  Of note is the Sambhavna Clinic, in Bhopal, India, that cares for multiple generations of Bhopal chemical disaster survivors and grows medicinal herbs and foods on site.  Another example is the amazing work of the UK National Health Service in transforming care delivery to focus on integrated health in communities.

What action items would you recommend to your viewers?

Join the Healthier Hospitals Initiative or Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network.  Select a practice that your organization or place of work engages in,  and research its environmental and health costs.  Does it have externalized negative impacts? If so, change it in order to move beyond those impacts, and share your story!