‘Concierge’ Doctors Create An Inviting Office

Two physicians start a practice that lets them concentrate on their patients’ needs.

As chief executive of First Physicians Group and a Sarasota doctor for three decades, Dr. Brad Lerner juggled a whopping 2,500 patients.

Dr. Louis Cohen, who helped create Intercoastal Medical Group Inc. in 1994, saw 30 patients daily. In all, his practice totaled 4,000.

During Thanksgiving weekend of 2004, the two physicians found themselves on call at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, tired and eager to stop the collective treadmill.

Last October, they created the change they sought, transforming a vacant pair of offices on the eighth floor of the Waldemere Medical Plaza into a practice with a staff of seven nurses, a dietitian and administrative staff.

To focus on patients, Lerner and Cohen decided to limit their practice to 600 and become part of a growing wave of doctors engaged in “concierge medicine.”

From the start, the two physicians stressed that their 3,400-square-foot office must reflect the care and warmth they intended to lavish on patients.

“We wanted it to be spacious, welcoming, but not ostentatious,” said Lerner, 52. “One of our goals was to make this inviting for patients to stop in and say hi, or have a cup of coffee.”

From its larger, brighter rooms to finishing touches like artwork, Lerner and Cohen’s office differs greatly from most doctors’ quarters.

For starters, the “non-waiting waiting room” features rich hardwood flooring, soft lighting, padded chairs, and ample marble and glass.

Nurses have their own offices, eliminating potentially embarrassing patient conversations in hallways.

A wood-paneled conference room, complete with fresh flowers, a giant flat-screen Sony television and a view of much of Sarasota promotes patient conversations.

“It’s a really nice place to talk with patients,” said Cohen, 49. “It offers leisurely comfort, in a non-threatening space that’s conducive to appreciating what’s being said on both sides.”

Lerner’s favorite space in the office has been dubbed “the quiet room,” a place where patients can relax or regroup after treatments or diagnoses, or if they’re not feeling well. Like the conference room, it sports a flat-screen TV as well as a pair of comfy, burnt orange couches.

Yet another room features an exercise bike, which allows the doctors to better analyze patients’ level of fitness and develop programs suited to individuals.

In contrast to the typically small, sterile rooms in which doctors often see patients, Lerner and Cohen’s examination rooms are well-lit and airy, with porcelain tile.

The same level of detail was achieved in the doctors’ private offices, which have textured wallpaper and quality chairs in a modern style. Cohen’s office features a life-size skeleton.

Ron Sivitz of Sivitz Innovative Design was the project’s architect.

“The finishes, in particular, lend themselves to the kind of personalized service they’re providing,” said Wayne Ruben, a partner in Ruben-Holland Development, which spent four months constructing the office.

Patients say they are as impressed with the office as they are with the physicians.

It’s upbeat, fresh and modern in a contemporary style,” Joel Fedder, a Longboat Key developer and Sarasota Opera board member who has been Lerner’s patient for the past decade, said of the Waldemere office.

“It’s not harsh at all,” Fedder added. “It’s a pleasant environment.”

Of Lerner, Fedder is even more complimentary.

“I’ve found him to be an excellent doctor. He cares about his patients,” added Fedder, 74. “When you get older, the availability and quality of care becomes critical.”

Not surprisingly, the boutique service isn’t cheap.

Prices range from an all-inclusive $2,800 annually to $4,800 per year, depending on age. Patients 64 and older pay the most.

In exchange, Cohen and Lerner make themselves available to patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They make hospital visits, supervise patients’ outside testing and coordinate surgeries. They even make house calls, in emergencies.

Likewise, the Waldemere space was costly to finish — and rent.

Cohen and Lerner’s 10-year lease with Sarasota Memorial will cost the physicians $850,000. As part of its deal, the hospital provided $136,000 to the practice’s interior construction.

The pair spent slightly more than that to finish the space and install artwork and furniture, Lerner said.

Even so, both physicians believe the office’s improvements properly reflect the nature of the practice.

“We’ve found that even little touches sometimes get people more relaxed,” Cohen said. “Little things can go a long way.”

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