Comfort Clinic

Same-day appointments? Waiting areas with a view? Downtown's Harbor of Health is changing the way parents look at healthcare.

The charms of life at Harbor Town are easy on the eyes and spirit. Stylish homes, tree-lined jogging trails along the water, and of course, Miss Cordelia's grocery store. With the addition of Harbor of Health, downtown's most visionary community aims to boost the inner spirit.

Located on the ground floor of a condo unit near Harbor Town's retail area, Harbor of Health consists of a 7,500-square-foot clinic and wellness center, where visitors are met with a sunny, if tiny, waiting room. Central to the clinic's mission is making patients feel comfortable (thus the natural light) and important. The facility's director, Steele Ford, doesn't even like the expression "waiting room."

Working exclusively around same-day appointments, Harbor of Health prides itself on patients seeing one of two providers (Dr. Susan Nelson or Melody Breeden, a nurse practitioner) within five minutes of arriving. They actually post the percentage of on-time appointments. On a Tuesday in mid-April, the figure is 88 percent.

Don't say "examination room" at Harbor of Health either. The facility has six "care rooms," including one used exclusively for acupuncture and massage. Each of the other five rooms features the closest thing to a lounge chair you'll ever see in a medical facility, as well as a small flowerpot with bamboo (a symbol of vitality and life, explains Ford).

As for the wellness center, the idea is not to just prevent illness, but to promote health. Among the classes offered daily (from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.) are aerobics, yoga, Pilates, tai chi, and kickboxing. Even gymnastics for children ("creative movement" for the tiny tots). As part of the Harbor Plan, a visitor can get unlimited classes, along with a "prescription for health" for $50 per month. Somehow, sweating through a step-aerobics drill seems a little easier with a view of the Wolf River harbor.

Having worked in family practice for 20 years (the last 12 in Memphis), Nelson is most surprised by the success of the same-day appointment program. "If you wake up sick," explains Nelson, "you can call us and we'll give you a specific time to come in, as opposed to having everyone come in at eight in the morning. You get here, and there aren't 20 other people in the waiting room. It's worked really well."

Another key to Harbor of Health's early success is a wireless electronic medical records (EMR) system. This is the way of the future in health care, but an enormously challenging transition for large practices. Nelson, Ford, and their staff put the rather expensive network in place upon the facility's opening last October. With the click of a mouse, Nelson can access a patient's complete medical record on her laptop (which she actually takes into the care room in place of the infamous "chart").

"Your health record can follow you anywhere you go, anytime," stresses Ford. "Ultimately," adds Nelson, "every hospital and health-care provider will have this kind of system, which allows for better communication between doctors and better delivery of care. The goal for the next 10 to 20 years is to make health information interchangeable."

Ford estimates that Harbor of Health sees an average of 35 patients a day and that no-shows are as low as three percent (the typical rate is closer to 20 percent). Is it possible that Memphians might start looking forward to seeing their doctor? With a post-examination visit to Miss Cordelia's merely a few steps away, it could very well happen.

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