A Trip to the Mall for Some Shopping, Dining, and Healthcare

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Scott HuffBy Scott A. Huff

As healthcare design professionals we often partner with clients who are on the leading edge of defining rapidly changing models of healthcare delivery. Healthcare providers strive to provide efficient, convenient, patient-centered care for their communities. Sometimes, a change in scenery can help them achieve that objective.

One-stop shopping takes on a new meaning as healthcare organizations explore new concepts of retail healthcare. Earlier this year, Main Line Health’s (MLH) new, 32,000-sq.-ft. outpatient medical center opened at the Exton Square Mall, 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia.  We worked with MLH to transform former multiple tenant spaces into a brand new kind of mall tenant. This retail/healthcare hybrid takes advantage of the mall’s visibility, location, ample parking and extended hours, plus the convenience of combining a doctor visit with shopping and dining.  

The idea of combining mall retail with medical services might seem unusual at first, but for people trying to make efficient use of their time, the Main Line Health Center at Exton Square brings healthcare to a convenient location featuring other amenities that big box retail store conversions do not have. As an ambulatory care facility, it is distinct from convenience care centers now popping up in pharmacies and supermarkets, which offer treatment for uncomplicated minor illnesses and injuries, primarily through nurse practitioners.  

Come on in

What’s inside? The health center offers traditional physician practice space combined with urgent care, and such services as chemotherapy and infusion, laboratory, neurodiagnostic and vascular testing, physical rehabilitation, and radiology (CT scan, DEXA Scan, Mammography, MRI, Ultrasound, and X-Ray). This combination offers another level of the one-stop shopping concept within the medical field. Imagine seeing your doctor for a routine visit and having same day access to onsite specialists or diagnostic imaging services which would normally require multiple follow-up appointments. 

With both interior and exterior mall entrances, access is a snap even when the mall is closed during late evening or early weekend hours. Once inside, the concept is to create an innovative concierge experience focused on the consumer and patient-centered care. Think Apple® Store for healthcare.  

Most services at the health center are unified by a centrally located registration desk which functions as a hub of integration. In lieu of multiple check-ins with separate practices, patients at this facility can centrally register for all services at one time in one location. A public concourse is designed to feel like a comforting “stroll through the park” as it connects the exterior entry, central registration, and mall entry. Each service entry along the interior concourse is defined with monumental wood panels creating portals that resemble the hollow of a tree.  

In collaboration with MLH, the mall owner PREIT worked to bring similar warmth to the more than 300 linear feet of store front which encloses the health center. Local artist Jeff Schaller was commissioned to create monumental “art pop” panels that incorporated clinical images as well as icons of the local Chester County landscape, representing the combined vision of community and care. 

Form follows flexibility and function

Behind the public façade, our modular floor plan comprised of standard room types allowed for greater adaptability to both current and future services. Based on a 10 foot by 10 foot room module, this “kit of parts” planning process reduced design time and increased our ability to interchange program elements and functions during planning and construction with relative ease. The flexibility also allowed Main Line Health more time to determine their response to the changes in the delivery model and uncertainty of the market. 

The existing structure of the mall space is exposed in the public spaces, highlighting the generous ceiling height. Above the ceiling of the clinical spaces, the ample height is used for multiple utility transitions for plumbing distribution to exam rooms and a ducted return air system which are not normally required by retail tenants in a mall setting. Mechanically, the units designed to deliver consistent air to each retail space are modified to allow for greater temperature and humidity control required for the new occupants and the equipment.  

What the future holds

The Main Line Health Center at Exton Square consolidates services previously provided at two nearby ambulatory care centers in Chester County. Maria Flannery, director of physician practices/ambulatory care center for Main Line Health told the Philadelphia Business Journal, “Those centers didn’t have great visibility; there were tucked into business plazas. Here, we are in a place where people can see us, easily find us, get in and out quickly and do some shopping or grab something to eat if they want.” 

Early results show evidence of increased patient through-put with quicker turnaround times and improved patient satisfaction. The facility has allowed Main Line Health to be more responsive to their clients. With multiple modalities and specialties on site, impromptu consultations and same day scheduling can occur, improving collaborative care and strengthening the bond between patients and physicians. 

And the collateral benefit is the creation of a new kind of anchor tenant that has exceeded health center expectations and has driven customers to the mall, benefiting other tenants. A true win-win.

Scott Huff is a project manager and senior associate with Stantec architecture and engineering in Philadelphia.