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Convenience, perks and a little sizzle are drawing some women to the doctor's office

With soft purple lighting, glass-paneled offices and a waterfall feature at the entrance, Inspiration Place looks more like a day spa than a women's health clinic. Patients can see a range of specialists and get any imaging or blood work done the same day. They can also enhance their visit with beauty treatments. [Courtesy of Florida Hospital]
With soft purple lighting, glass-paneled offices and a waterfall feature at the entrance, Inspiration Place looks more like a day spa than a women's health clinic. Patients can see a range of specialists and get any imaging or blood work done the same day. They can also enhance their visit with beauty treatments. [Courtesy of Florida Hospital]
Published Mar. 12, 2018

Later this year, the University of South Florida will open a health center in South Tampa where women can get their annual exams, stay for lunch prepared by an in-house nutritionist, and see lab results before they leave.

At Dr. Parveen Vahora's obstetrician-gynecologist practice in Trinity, patients can buy reproductive physical therapy tools — otherwise known as sex toys — with the guidance of a doctor and in private, without the awkwardness of an adult store.

And in Wesley Chapel, a new clinic called Inspiration Place looks more like a day spa, with soft purple lighting, glass-paneled offices and a waterfall feature at the entrance. Patients can see a range of specialists, from a physical therapist to a urologist, and get any imaging or blood work done the same day. They also can enhance their visit with a massage, a facial, an eyebrow waxing, a trip to the clinic's coffee bar or a spin through its jewelry and handbag boutique.

With patients gaining access to ever more options, some providers are finding it's not enough anymore to offer just health care. They are separating themselves from the pack with what has come to be known as "concierge medicine," offering perks to women, often the heads of households, who are looking for some comfort and more of an "experience" at the doctor's office.

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"I have never seen a model this specific set up for women," said Dr. Gina Kirkpatrick, a urologist with Florida Hospital who sees patients at Inspiration Place, which opened late last year.

"Women are busy," she said. "We have less and less time to wait around for results or to make appointments on another day for follow ups. We need to be sensitive to patients' needs."

• • •

Pamela Muma had a health scare three years ago.

During a routine exam, doctors found something irregular and told her to schedule several follow-up tests to rule out anything serious. But the process of setting up multiple appointments was tedious and slow.

"I was having a difficult time getting things scheduled and trying to get those results," said Muma, 72, whose health ended up being fine. "And I'm a person who has all these medical contacts at my disposal," she added, citing her philanthropic and strategic planning involvement with the University of South Florida and its medical school.

"If I'm having a difficult time, it made me think that the average woman in Tampa Bay who is not at all involved in health care is going to have a much harder time," she said. "So I decided things have to change."

Muma and her husband, Les, who are already well-known benefactors to USF, gave $2 million to the university to open a new women's health center, which will be housed at the USF Health building on the Tampa General Hospital campus. The Pamela Muma Women's Health Center will open later this year, and aims to be a one-stop shop for all women's health care needs, says the center's medical director, Dr. Emily Haly.

"Concierge medicine is basically making doctors more available for the patient," said Haly, who ran her own concierge practice in Charleston, S.C., for three years before moving to Tampa Bay last summer.

"Patients can call me any time to get the information they need quickly. We'll have the availability to coordinate any type of care if a specialist is needed. All routine appointments, from general exams to lab work, will be handled that day."

Most doctors, generally speaking, have anywhere from 1,800 to 2,000 patients they're responsible for. In the new center at USF, each physician might be responsible for 500 to 600, so they can be accessible 24/7, Muma said. While health insurance will cover the costs of most routine exams, women will likely pay a bit more out-of-pocket for the extra access, Muma said. Overall costs are still being ironed out.

And it won't be in a stuffy setting, she added.

Each patient suite will have an exam room but also an adjacent sitting room, which will serve as a comfortable space to access WiFi, watch TV or even order lunch, while they wait between scheduled appointments for the day.

"We're providing massages, acupuncture and possibly dermatology services too. There will also be a nutritionist on staff," Muma said. "We want to create an environment that is very soothing, comfortable and stress-free."

• • •

Dr. Parveen Vahora began selling vibrators in her office nearly nine years ago to help women who struggled with intimacy and reproductive pain.

"At first I sold glass tools to massage pressure points. If you have a knot on your back or shoulder, you'd massage it right? It's no different with the vagina," Vahora said. "Patients didn't want to go to physical therapy for this, so I found tools that they could use at home."

Vahora sells Luna Beads, used to stimulate stronger orgasms and for Kegel strengthening exercises, and Lelo-brand vibrator sex toys as modes of therapy for women. In addition, she offers vaginal rejuvenation services using MonaLisa Touch treatments.

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"Are you really going to go to the sex toy store to get this? I knew patients weren't going to do it," Vahora said. "Patients can go online and order these for themselves now, or they can buy them through our office. Either way, I think they feel more comfortable having a conversation and consultation about it."

Vahora said this is just one perk she offers for patients in an effort to maintain a non-judgemental and stress-free environment in her clinic.

"Patients are more educated now, which is great. They come in, sometimes with their husbands, and ask questions. Some of these tools can be bought through health savings accounts, too," she said.

• • •

Back at Inspiration Pace, Kirkpatrick sends many of her post-surgery patients to the women's clinic for physical therapy and follow-up appointments. She said they often lump in routine OB-GYN care while they're there, too. That's what Deborah Giella did during a recent post-operation appointment at Inspiration Place with Kirkpatrick.

What she loved most about the experience was that she got everything she needed for the year done in one trip. Health insurance covers the cost of most clinical services, but patients should be prepared to pay for spa services.

"It's just so convenient," said Giella, 56, who lives in Dade City. "You don't feel like a patient when you're here. I'm not used to that."

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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