I recently presented a seminar on converting retail spaces into clinics at the 2013 Healthcare Design Conference. My colleague Dennis Vonasek and I noted how demographic changes, new healthcare legislation, and the after-effects of the Great Recession are creating opportunities to rethink clinic design, including this recent trend in retail conversions.

With the rise of empty big-box retail spaces nationally, many healthcare organizations are finding cost-effective solutions to their facility needs by converting former stores into clinics.

The trend offers built-in benefits—many former stores are accessible to the community, offer ample parking, are integrated with the existing urban infrastructure, have open floor plates flexible to new uses, and provide cost-effective solutions to building ground-up.

Additionally, retail spaces often provide inspiration from the retail industry, prompting healthcare providers to add such consumer-oriented amenities as concierge service, plusher waiting rooms, regional artwork, and branded signage to establish a welcoming environment.

As Vonasek said, "People usually are not in a clinic because they want to be there. They are under stress because of a medical condition. A well-designed clinic in a familiar residential location helps people feel calm and more in control.”

HealthEast Care System in St. Paul, Minn., offers a couple recent examples. The Grand Avenue Clinic within a former storefront, for instance, blends into the historic neighborhood by projecting a spa-like image with warm materials, rich wood tones, and varied ambient lighting.

Across town at the Midway Clinic in a former big-box bookstore, efficient space planning within the two-story building directs patients between check-in on the ground level, destination exam rooms and consultation offices, and back to check-out.

In each instance, the interiors incorporate the same high-quality materials and details as a ground-up clinic, but here modified to reflect the communities served. Market analysis, location factors, existing footprint, and new technology all drove the design process—and finally impacted patient satisfaction.

In fact, the patient satisfaction scores have increased as much as 40 percent at Grand Avenue and 60 percent at Midway Clinic, compared to their old locations.

Retail space conversions offer many opportunities—for the healthcare provider and the patient. Ultimately, retail conversion is a cost-effective way to bring healthcare services closer to the community and patient base.