Date: September 15, 2016
Professional Plazas – Podcast
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- Professional Plazas
This is Scott McDonald and welcome to the Perfect Place to Put a Practice Podcast.
In this session we are going to talk about the pros and the cons of placing a practice in a professional plaza or medical center.
Before I begin, it is worth remembering that the preferences of patients will change over time as to what setting they prefer to receive their healthcare. You might recall that we discussed this a little when looking at lifestyle centers and mall locations. Let’s look back at history for a minute to consider what most practice sites we considered normal a long time ago. With the exception of a few very large cities, almost all professional offices were located either in offices attached to a living space, often the doctor’s home, or in a regular office location much like any other business. Because healthcare was considered quite private, these often were found on upper stories where passers-by would not be able to look in a window or door at a person receiving treatment but where natural light would be possible. Climbing stairs became synonymous with going to the doctor. How times have changed!
For convenience, one major trend occurred when these practices were clustered in a general neighborhood, often near a hospital or school where research and techniques were carried out and taught to young professionals. Baltimore and Chicago still have these clustered sites although the office spaces themselves have been greatly modified. But it is also wise to recall that one of the big reasons for this clustering was the problems of transportation. Either rail or bus would be considered a common way of getting to the doctor because private automobiles were not nearly as common except among the wealthy. With the advent of private transportation, suburbs were more common (once again, the pattern was set in Chicago and Baltimore). But this made taking the healthcare office closer to the residential neighborhoods where smaller hospitals and smaller medical centers were introduced. This only became practical with a family car.
This story could easily be a longer, more rambling tale of the development of private practice but I will suffice by saying that the way people shop and commute changes. But more importantly, what is considered a convenient and desirable site is changing at the same time. During the 1960 and 70s, the shopping mall became more popular. On through the 1980s this trend continued. But it slowed and stopped in the 1990s. The reason? A change in the definition of convenience. You may recall a time that clinics, dental offices, accountants, and attorneys had their offices in these enclosed malls. For adults who had to walk from their cars into these malls, the idea that several errands could be run in these retail centers at the same time became impractical. Adults in their 50s may not mind being a “mall walker” for exercise but they found it painful to have to trek long distances for care.
The result has been a division in professional practice locations. In every case, the distance between one’s car (or bus or subway or train stop) had to be reduced. The distance between one’s home or place or employment also became less. And thus proximity has become the most important aspect of what is considered convenient. The division I refer to is between professional centers and retail centers. Don’t mistake me here: professional centers have become closely associated with retail centers. They are often owned and planned by developers who have considered them as complimentary of each other. So, what is the big deal? Money is the big deal. Retail space is far more visible and, therefore, more expensive than professional office space. Retail space requires much more planning, more expensive and difficult to obtain permits, and closer attention to signage and traffic. Professional centers may require personalization of the space that will allow for plumbing and electrical that are more extensive than in most retail space but for the most part, they are less expensive to build and to maintain. Fewer people pass through them than retail locations. Crime and maintenance issues are also typically lessened because the hours of operation are shorter.
So, does it make sense to look for a retail location with its greater visibility or go to a professional plaza or medical center? I am sorry that there is not a simple answer that will fit all needs. The truth is, if you are in a primary care practice, visibility is important. This goes for pediatricians and pedodontists, urgent care, and family practice offices. The more dependent one’s practice is upon meeting patients and clients who come outside of a referral situation, the more a retail space with great visibility makes sense. The more dependent a practice is upon referrals, the more a medical center or plaza makes sense. But keep in mind that practices themselves are changing. Dermatologists and ophthalmologists used to receive 100% of their patients from referral but now they get patients without them. Some cancer treatment centers are moving this way as well. Orthodontists have already made the transition. Still gastroenterologists, endocrinologists, and most other medical specialists will probably always be dependent upon referrals and will benefit from being closer to these GPs.
The bottom line is the bottom line. The primary reason to decide on a more visible, high traffic location is going to be money. Can you justify the expense with higher traffic? If not, be careful that your ego is not driving the decision to put your practice in the limelight, a very EXPENSIVE lime-light.
This is Scott McDonald. See us at Doctor Demographics.com. And thanks so much for listening.