March 16--It used to be that doctors would open offices wherever they wanted, figuring patients had no choice but to find them. Not anymore. "You have to have a Starbucks-like location," said Dr. Peter Lamelas, co-founder of the MD Now chain based in West Palm Beach.
With the expansion of urgent care and wellness centers and free-standing emergency rooms, many physicians are abandoning traditional medical office settings for bustling retail corridors that patients can easily find and access.
The typical 1,000-square-foot doctors' offices are giving way to more outpatient health centers that require 2,500-to-5,000 square feet, said D.K. Mink, founder of Mink & Mink, a Fort Lauderdale-based commercial real estate firm that specializes in medical real estate.
These facilities show that preventive care is the focus of efforts to reduce health care costs, Mink said.
Medical users tend to sign long-term leases, which creates stability for landlords, said Peter Reed, of Commercial Florida Realty Services in Boca Raton. Former bank branches and restaurants are ideal spots for medical offices, he said.
"Even a well-positioned old Denny's on a main artery with good exposure and parking," Reed said. "Medical has always been a smaller niche, but now it's expanded."
In 2007, Cleveland Clinic Florida of Weston opened offices in West Palm Beach at CityPlace Tower, next to the giant CityPlace retail complex along Okeechobee Boulevard. JFK Medical Center of Atlantis recently opened a free-standing emergency room in the Midtown residential and retail center on PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens.
Last month, Palm Beach County announced plans to develop the 800-acre Briger tract in Palm Beach Gardens, adjacent to Scripps Florida research institute in Jupiter. Besides housing, 170 acres is reserved for biotech and other uses, including medical offices.
Dr. Evan Goldstein opened Boca Regional Urgent Care in November 2011 at the busy intersection of Glades and Lyons roads. When giving directions, Goldstein tells people it's next to Pier One Imports, the home furnishings chain.
"All the old rules of medical real estate don't apply," he said.
Meanwhile, Lamelas opened his first MD Now in suburban Lake Worth in 2004. The chain has since grown to eight locations in Palm Beach and Broward counties, all in strong retail areas, according to Courtenay Yergens, the company's director of real estate and development.
MD Now expects to open about 10 more in the next year in the tri-county area, with plans to add eight to 10 a year after that.
A longtime emergency room physician, Lamelas was determined to offer patients a fast and relatively inexpensive way to treat minor injuries and illnesses. The chain accepts most major insurance plans and treats and releases the average patient within an hour, Lamelas said.
"What I wanted to do was open a facility that was the complete opposite of the emergency [room]," he said.
Staff writer Marcia Heroux Pounds contributed to this report.
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