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Optometry school plans cutting-edge clinic in Concourse

The Commercial Appeal
Thomas Bailey Jr. 

To see the future of healthcare, consider the eye clinic that is about to be built inside Crosstown Concourse.

The Southern College of Optometry has applied for a construction permit to build out an 8,000-square-foot clinic on the second floor near where Church Health will operate.

The building document values the work at more than $1.1 million.

"We hope this clinic will be our first truly inter-professional clinic where our optometric physicians and interns will provide care in conjunction with, and alongside, family practice physicians, residents, physician assistants, family nurse practitioners, social workers, pharmacists, nutritionists...,'' said Dr. James Venable, the college's vice president for clinical programs and a faculty member.

The optometry college now operates two clinics, a 48,000-square-foot facility on its campus at 1245 Madison, and a 2,000-square-foot clinic on the University of Memphis campus.

Attending to more than 50,000 patients a year, the school has outgrown the existing clinics. The Concourse clinic will have 15 exam rooms and serve up to 14,000 more patients a year.

The school has not decided on a name for its future clinic, but has long decided it will be part of the new movement in health care that breaks down silos between disciplines, and practices "narrative medicine.''

For example, instead of asking typical questions the optometrist may say to the patient, "Tell me more about what you do with your eyes on daily basis,'' Venable said.  

"Our approach will get back to being patient-centered, not bound by technology,'' he said.

Not that the new clinic won't exploit the latest technology. The facility will have a goal to be 100 percent paperless. Every patient will be greeted individually at the door and handed an electronic tablet he or she will use for the visit.

In addition to filling out electronic forms, patients can virtually try on eye products or place an order online. "It will be a much more interactive and customer-service based approach to eye and vision care,'' Venable said.

Some mistakenly believe the college's clinics provide discounted eye care. "We keep the prices competitive with every other provider in the area,'' he said.

"You're not being cared for by a student; every patient sees their optometric physician, a licensed doctor,'' Venable said. Student interns are there to assist and to learn. 

Like Crosstown Concourse as a whole, the eye clinic is scheduled to open early next year.

The concourse aspires to be an "urban village,'' where the thousands of people who enter daily will be encouraged to interact with each other as they engage with health care, the arts, and education. 

"They want to bring together the arts, health care and education in such a way that it really defines the art of living well,'' Venable said. "So our concept is, to live well one must see well and be healthy.''

The optometry school and Church Health will join forces. Church Health optometrists, who serve working patients who have no insurance, will use about 1,500 square feet of the clinic, leaving about 6,400 square feet for the school's optometrists.

But there won't be separate signs for each. "You won't know where one begins or the other ends,'' Venable said.

LRK is the architectural firm for the construction project and Grinder, Taber & Grinder will build the clinic.

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