Trained as an engineer, Mike Pedersen was attracted to his current area of specialty — Mortenson Construction's healthcare sector leader — because a thoughtfully designed and constructed building can greatly affect patients in need.

"It's a perfect fit for me," he says. "My path stems from my love of buildings and the health care environment. The connection with patients is what we do."

Pedersen's mom was a nurse and his father had diabetes, so the native of Decatur, Ill., certainly is familiar with the hospital environment.

Golden Valley-based Mortenson is a heavy hitter in the health care construction field — it currently is the nation's fifth-largest builder in the sector, with more than $1.1 billion under construction in 2012, according to Modern Healthcare.

Locally, Mortenson's health care footprint includes $116 million in health care construction over the past five years. Projects in the Twin Cities include the Allina WestHealth Emergency Department addition, Park Nicollet TRIA renovation and upgrades, and HCMC PICU and Dialysis renovations.

Pederson joined Mortenson last November, and is responsible for the overall management of the firm's health care customer relations, business development, design phase planning and construction activities.

While controversy still stews over the Affordable Care Act, a recent survey conducted of 190 health care administrators, facilities leaders and architects by Mortenson indicates the law will have a deep impact on the way buildings are used and designed in delivering care. Health care providers know that they must reduce costs and improve outcomes, and in many ways, their physical plant can help to do so.

Q: Why did you do the survey?

A: We get asked often what impact the [Affordable Care] Act is having in the industry, and what health care systems are doing to respond to it or prepare for changes.

Q: What are some of the takeaways from the survey?

A: We found that more than half of the health care providers feel the ACA will be a step forward in addressing long-term health issues in the United States. But four out of five of those responding still felt some uncertainty on how it will play out. In addition, four out of five respondents said focusing on health outcomes is the right way to go.

On the cost of care, two-thirds of respondents really believe the ACA will lower it. But a third does not believe that. So I think a key takeaway is that patients are really shopping around for care now.

Q: What was the most surprising feedback you received?

A: I was a little surprised that the vast majority of health care providers are still unsure about reimbursement.

Q: How does the ACA affect the use of current health care facilities and the construction of new ones?

A: Ninety-five percent thought a clinic or ambulatory facility with outpatient care would become more prominent in health care. That's a real shift because the providers are saying we need to focus on outcomes, and the patients are saying we want to have an environment that is more like our home environment.

Q: So that's a shift from a traditional hospital setting?

A: The model for a traditional hospital is a larger campus that has all kinds of care, including emergency, mother-baby, clinics. Now, more clinics and ambulatory facilities are being built. [For example,] you see that in the Twin Cities with the construction of the University of Minnesota's Ambulatory unit.

Q: What sort of trends are you seeing in the design of new health care facilities?

A: There's a shift toward creating a health care environment that is more like your home. So that means more natural light in waiting rooms, even in surgical suites. Ridgeview, Fairview and Allina all have this [in surgical suites].

Q: You mention "micro-hospitals" in the survey. What are they?

A: They're micro environments centered around specialty clinics, [where] there's less time waiting and fewer overnight visits, so there's less cost.

Q: The survey indicates that technology will help influence hospital design. How so?

A: From a patient perspective, we need to better understand where we're going in a facility. Hospitals are trying to help patients find their way around. In the old days, you'd park your car and then try to figure out how to get inside and where to go. Hospitals are putting more signage in, but technology can help by putting monitors in waiting rooms for those with a loved one in surgery, they can see if they're in pre-op, surgery or post-op.