UF Health MedMatters

UF Health The Oaks Ophthalmology Practice Serving Community in State-Of-The-Art Clinic and Surgical Facility

Just over two years ago University of Florida Health debuted three new specialty practices at The Oaks Mall, putting crucial services in the heart of the community and further invigorating Gainesville’s most popular shopping area with a distinctive, visually inspiring health care destination. One of the specialty practices at UF Health The Oaks is ophthalmology (eye specialties). Since opening, the ophthalmology practice now has 50,000 patient visits a year and room to accommodate even more in the future.

Oaks Mall eye center

“The eye center at the Oaks has not only resulted in an immediate expansion of our services but will also allow for continued growth for years to come. We are able to serve more people and offer additional services that attract patients from a wide geographic area. What is great is that patients are now able to receive all their eye care, including surgery, in one location,” said Sonal S. Tuli, MD, chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of ophthalmology.

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.

The ophthalmology practice at UF Health The Oaks has 66 examination rooms, four laser rooms, four procedure rooms, and an optical area for glasses and contact lenses.

“The additional space has allowed us to further expand our services and create centers for advanced retinal and ocular surface disorders that are providing patients in the region with leading-edge eye care,” 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 retail store, Tuli said,

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, when the facility opened. “We now have expert physicians and other vital health resources in a location that is convenient for patients throughout the region. As demand for our ophthalmology continues to grow, UF Health is proud to bring its medical expertise, leading-edge technology and caring patient focus to a Gainesville landmark.”

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.

The mall’s location and easy access fills many needs for patients and physicians, said Marvin A. Dewar, MD, JD, CEO and chief medical officer of UF Health Physicians and a senior associate dean of the UF College of Medicine. The practice draws patients from throughout the state and region, Dewar said.

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, Dewar said, was to design spaces that prevent backlogs and are seamless for patients and staff. That led to small but crucial design elements: Eye treatments are highly specialized, so patients and physicians are now grouped together based on needs.

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 — the UF Health campus on Archer Road and the multispecialty practice sites at Springhill, Dewar said.

The location is especially appealing for eye patients because it has plentiful public transportation for patients who don’t drive due to vision issues, Tuli said. Inside, the ophthalmology space has thoughtful features such as color-coded lighting and signs to help visually impaired patients navigate easily.

“One of the best things about this location is that we were able to build and design our practice to our specifications to make it convenient and efficient for patients,” Tuli said.

In ophthalmology, UF Health has the only practice in the region that covers every subspecialty, including cataracts, corneal transplants, pediatric ophthalmology, retinal surgery, refractive surgery, oculoplastics, glaucoma, and low-vision services. It also is the only practice in the region to perform novel procedures such as “bionic eye” retinal implants, artificial corneas and miniature telescopes to improve vision loss caused by macular degeneration.

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 Pollitt said should reduce energy consumption by more than half compared with traditional methods.

The move also puts UF Health at the forefront of a growing movement to bring medical services to malls. In 2017, 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: Pollitt, the facilities chief, said he 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.