A friend trying to rehab a stubborn running injury stopped going to physical therapy because commuting three times a week to the medical complex for several months was impossible between work and family obligations. Yet the demand for medical services is growing, driven by factors such as an aging population, rising obesity rates, more elective and cosmetic procedures, and greater participation in endurance sports, particularly among older athletes.

The result is a clamoring for more convenient health care services that has prompted savvy providers to respond with offerings as accessible as your neighborhood shopping center.

Providers: Your customers are already going to shopping centers

The appeal of health care services at retail centers is easy to understand. Nearly all of us visit necessity-based stores regularly -- an average of 2.2 visits per week to purchase groceries, according to a 2012 Food Marketing Institute study. For health care providers, locating a facility near a grocery, drug, or big box store where customers frequently shop is a competitive advantage. A retail location is likely to draw more street visibility for the medical provider, since shopping centers are typically located along busier roads than are medical office complexes and hospitals.

Consumers: Retail health centers offer big convenience at lower costs

In a Healthcare Design article titled "Medical Services to Go," the publication reported 1,350 walk-in and urgent care medical facilities located at shopping centers and malls nationwide -- a number that is growing. These clinics can meet the most common health needs of today’s consumers from scheduled physical exams and other preventive care, to emergent medical needs, such as the diagnosis and treatment of non-critical and minor injuries. These walk-in clinics usually have generous evening and weekend hours like those of their traditional retail neighbors. Typically, no appointment is required, and some have lab and X-ray facilities on-site. Furthermore, medical locations in shopping centers offer parking in front of the facilities, which is more appealing to patients than walking across big hospital lots and navigating elevators and corridors to see their doctors.

Additionally, walk-in care facilities can be up to 40 percent less expensive than seeing a doctor in a traditional medical setting, and 80 percent less than a visit to the emergency room, according Healthcare Design’s data from the Convenient Care Association. A Forbes article explains why potential cuts in entitlements in the federal budget make retail-located medical centers attractive not just to patients, but also to hospitals and insurance companies seeking more economical ways to provide health care.

The retail trend is not limited to walk-in clinics or the optical shops that have dotted malls for decades. Health care providers cropping up at shopping centers include dentists, dialysis centers, pediatricians, labs and diagnostic testing centers, laser/LASIK surgery centers, plastic surgery centers, hospital satellite offices, and “health and wellness centers” -- hybrid gyms and rehabilitation centers employing personal trainers, physical therapists, and doctors.

Landlords: Retail health care means more customers for your shopping center

With growing demand for medical services, more landlords see the benefit of having health care providers in their centers. First, these are ecommerce-resistant tenants who will generate foot traffic because medical treatment is still mostly an in-person proposition. Also, since the build-out of a health care space in a retail center is more expensive and labor intensive than inventory-based retail space, the medical tenant is more likely to stay once moved in. Many such tenants are backed by high credit organizations like hospitals and insurance companies.

Historically, landlords were concerned that patients of medical tenants would monopolize parking at the center to the detriment of adjacent retailers. However, Kimco has found that parking rotation for our medical tenants is not much different than for our other retailers. If medical staff uses the employee parking areas of a shopping center, landlords should find that there is plenty of space for all the center's customers out front.

Landlords like Kimco specializing in necessity-based and grocery-anchored retail should particularly benefit from the retail-medical trend. A customer’s trip to the clinic for a son’s sore throat, while the daughter takes a karate lesson, is likely to result in even more spending at the shopping center -- perhaps a visit to the drugstore to fill a prescription, the grocery for a few staples, or a quick-serve restaurant for some convenient take-out.

The retail-medical model, while definitely on the upswing, is not practical for all medical services. For specialized or complex medical care, especially where overnight stays are required, the traditional hospital or medical office setting still dominates. However, for many types of health services, the retail center is emerging as the ideal location. It’s almost as convenient as a doctor making house calls.