UF Health MedMatters

Bringing UF Otolaryngology, Ophthalmology Care to the Patient

University of Florida Health in early 2020 found itself at the forefront of a growing movement to bring medical services to malls when it debuted three specialty practices, including otolaryngology, at the most-popular mall in the city where the health system is based.

Two years after UF Health relocated some of its busiest practices to The Oaks Mall in Gainesville, the effort has proved a resounding success, UF Health officials say, and reinforced the sensibility and practicality of health systems bringing their services to busy shopping areas.

UF Health The Oaks

More than 30,000 patients are expected to visit the otolaryngology practice in 2022, with thousands more going to the site’s ophthalmology and audiology practices as UF Health The Oaks has taken root in the community.

The practices occupy 139,000-square-feet in a location previously used by Sears.

UF Health brought those practices to the heart of its community and close to a major interstate, increased patient convenience and created a distinctive, visually inspiring destination.

William O. Collins, MD, chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of otolaryngology and medical director of the otolaryngology at The Oaks, said the practice has benefited from greater patient and staff satisfaction.

“The experience has been universally positive,” Collins said. “The patients appreciate the larger exam rooms and waiting areas. And we’ve been able to bring together a variety of services for them, from radiology to a surgery center, that makes it all the more convenient for them. That’s important when many of our patients might travel several hours to get to our practice.”

He said patients appreciate the dining and shopping opportunities, larger exam rooms and technological upgrades that makes the practice more patient-friendly. Patients can also buy hearing aids at the audiology practice.

“It’s fortuitous that right before the COVID-19 pandemic we moved into a place with more space and upgraded infrastructure, including HVAC systems,” Collins said. “It’s made for a safer environment for patients, their families and health providers.”

Tech upgrades include the use of video monitors that allow patients and family to see some procedures, such as endoscopy exams, as they occur.

“That increases patient satisfaction and allows us to be better teachers as we explain to them what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Collins said.

The mall is an excellent site for several reasons, said Ed Jimenez, CEO of UF Health Shands.

“The Oaks Mall delivers a location that is ideal for our patients and gives them convenient access to practices with exceptional national reputations. We are proud to be among the growing number of innovative health care systems that are bringing medicine to malls,” Jimenez said.

UF Health The Oaks includes 87 exam rooms, 15 procedure rooms including laser rooms, eight treatment rooms and 10 sound booths across the three practices. Visitors have more than 500 parking spaces and easy access to shopping and dining. Patients can also shop for eyeglasses and contact lenses at an adjacent store.

Both inside and outside spaces are augmented with thoughtfully curated, nature-themed art that includes murals, stunning photographs and unique mobiles.

“UF Health The Oaks is an exceptional example of how to best serve patients and the community,” said David R. Nelson, MD, senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “We now have expert physicians and other vital health resources in a location that is convenient for patients throughout the region.”

Visitors and patients immediately notice a host of amenities and aesthetics. Outside, a towering glass panel mural — the first of its kind at a UF Health facility — features 11 large, highly detailed images of native plants, animals and natural features. Inside, a terrazzo floor highlights the concourse connecting the parking area to the medical facilities and mall. Sunlight streams through skylights and custom-made mobiles spin slowly overhead.

To optimize the patient experience, architectural design teams that had created similar medical practices elsewhere were consulted, and UF Health physicians provided crucial input. The idea was to design spaces that prevent backlogs and are seamless for patients and staff, UF Health leaders say.

It also puts accomplished, dedicated physicians, innovative medicine and additional clinical space close to patients’ homes and jobs. The location nicely complements UF Health’s other two main locations in Gainesville.

Innovation at UF Health The Oaks goes far beyond medicine and patient care. The space is heated and cooled with variable refrigerant flow, a technology that should reduce energy consumption by more than half compared with traditional methods.

Health systems are increasingly considering mall spaces when looking to bring their practices to population centers.

In 2017, for example, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute struck a long-term deal to redevelop a former mall near Boston. Vanderbilt Health has transformed part of a once-struggling mall into a multiclinic health and wellness destination near its Nashville, Tennessee campus. In 2019, the Mall of America announced a collaboration with University of Minnesota physicians to bring a walk-in clinic with exam rooms, radiology services and a pharmacy to the site.

The UF Health project began attracting attention even before it opened: UF Health’s facilities chief fielded about 10 calls from other companies and institutions that were interested in learning more about the transformative work.

About UF Health Shands Hospital

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University of Florida Health Shands Hospital has been recognized among the nation’s best hospitals in seven adult medical specialties. Overall, UF Health Shands Hospital was recognized as one of the best hospitals in Florida. In addition to being ranked among the nation’s top 50 hospitals in seven specialties, UF Health Shands Hospital also was listed as “high performing” in seven specialties, including abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, colon cancer surgery, COPD, heart failure, lung cancer surgery, neurology & neurosurgery and orthopaedics.