Clinics Filling Mall's Empty Spaces

Julie Shenkman
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Owners and operators of malls and shopping centers constantly look for promising tenants, and slowing retail trends have opened rental doors to another industry. Walk-up medical clinics are making use of space vacated by major retailers such as RadioShack and Sears, and the increased availability of minor urgent care centers is good for landlords and patients.

Walk-up medical clinics are welcome renters. Health-care tenants often pay more per square foot in rent than beleaguered retailers can, and medical clinics are more likely to sign longer leases. Throw in the fact that walk-up medical clinics and other health-care providers often sport a better credit rating than retail businesses, and it's not surprising that commercial landlords are happy to unlock the doors for doctors and nurses.

Commercial landlords aren't the only ones benefiting from the relationship with health-care providers. The Urgent Care Association of America reports that walk-in clinics are trending up through the years, with a 20 percent increase in the number of clinics operating in the nation from 2009 to 2013. Empty retail space provides pre-existing locations with ample foot traffic for developing a new patient base. Most shopping centers are also easily accessible to local populations, making medical offices a logical stop for worried parents or workers who can't shake a nasty cough.

Walk-up medical clinics offer more than convenience for the patient; they keep non-critical cases out of hospital emergency rooms where overcrowding often leads to lengthy wait times. Clinicians in walk-in clinics treat maladies such as pink eye, sore throats and minor cuts. Patients presenting with more serious illnesses or injuries can be referred to specialists by clinic doctors, often expediting appointment processes so patients are seen more quickly by other providers. Clinics also offer routine exams, including sports and work physicals, as well as vaccinations. Some locations feature physical therapists on staff for rehab work or evaluation.

With walk-up medical clinics serving around four patients an hour, 12 hours a day, mall location clinics take some burden off local medical infrastructure. Benefits for everyone involved are likely driving some growth in shopping mall locations, with approximately a third of clinics in the nation now offering services in shopping centers and strip malls. According to a manager for one health-care group, the most desirable locations offer high traffic, strong signage options and good visibility from roadways, indicating that health-care providers are relying more on marketing strategies as changing reimbursement structures impact bottom lines. For providers, settling into retail locations represents a trend for economic stability in the industry, much like the growing number of employer-provider partnerships or consolidations.

While experts question whether the economics of shopping mall locations works for every provider or whether the growth of walk-up medical clinics is going to outpace demand, the current solution seems to benefit providers, patients and local economies. After all, anyone living in the fast-paced world likely appreciates a one-stop shop for medical, fashion and grocery needs.


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