Maria Sonnenberg – Special to FLORIDA TODAY

When the pandemic first churned, we drew comfort from telling each other how being stuck at home was allowing us to get back to the important things and people in our lives.

By now, we are pretty over that philosophy and would love to get back to our old normal, although that won’t be happening any time soon.

Our new normal, however, is not all bad.

Take telehealth, for example. Raise your hand if you just can’t wait to get back to your doctor’s office.

Yeah, that is not high on the love-to-do list. At least you can credit good old COVID-19 for introducing many of us to the wonders of telehealth, which has physically separated us from having to leaf through dog-eared copies of “People” while trying to avoid the hacking person sitting next to you.

Telehealth is not a new concept, but it has gained serious traction in the age of coronavirus.

Telemedicine not only minimizes transmission risk of the virus, but it is also nice and convenient, and saves on gasoline, too. It is here to stay, even after the pandemic.

“Many of our patients like seeing me this way,” said Dr. Edgardo Hernandez Pons at Familiar Medical Services in Melbourne. “The patients are able to stay home and not wait in a waiting room with other sick people. They feel very safe.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telehealth can be delivered synchronously using real-time telephone or live-audio video interaction through a smartphone, table or computer, or asynchronously, with secure “store and forward” technology typically used in patient portals that store messages, images and data to be interpreted and responded to later.

Remote patient monitoring, which allows direct transmission of a patient’s clinical measurements, can also be part of the telehealth picture.

Although many insurances still do not cover virtual visits, Medicare does, and that is a good thing, since telehealth is particularly beneficial to vulnerable seniors.

However, problems can arise when the patient is not technology-savvy, as some seniors tend to be.

“They need to know how their phone works and what app they need to use in order to make this happen,” Pons said.

At Familiar Medical Services, the staff walks the patient through the telehealth procedure and conducts a test call to see everything is working.

Five minutes before the scheduled appointment, the staff will call the patient to remind them to be ready for the doctor’s call.

When appointments are made, the staff will inquire about symptoms. Patients can send questions, pictures and list of medications ahead of time through the patient portal to save time during the virtual visit.

“The staff is available to set up the portal if needed,” Pons said.

If symptoms warrant it, the doctor will contact the patient immediately and order tests or issue a referral.

Telehealth is also no longer just for office visits.

At Aquatic Health and Rehabilitation, which has offices in Viera and Merritt Island, physical therapist Nicole Knights conducts virtual physical therapy the telemedicine software.

“The sessions are one-on-one between physical therapist and patient,” Knights said. “Telemedicine has allowed patients to continue to build strength and endurance, maintain flexibility and continue to exercise through a virtual platform.”

Deemed an essential service, Aquatic Health has remained open during the pandemic, but the addition of telehealth has allowed at-risk patients to access physical therapy without incurring risks of contracting coronavirus.

“Patients who are vulnerable with co-morbidities are very grateful that we are able to provide their exercise, as they would regress otherwise,” said Dr. Terry Shepherd, owner of Aquatic Health and Rehabilitation. “This has tremendously helped our Parkinson’s patients, our stroke patients and even our brain injury patients.”

At Aquatic Health, the patients use a portal that is secure and follow HIPPA guidelines to schedule one-on-one virtual time. An email is then sent to the patient with the link to connect with a doctor of physical therapy.

“Once a patient is connected, the patient shows up as a virtual patient in the doctor’s (virtual) waiting room and the therapist can then connect for their session,” said Shepherd.

Telehealth has even expanded to include live Facebook events, such as one Health First hosted July 23.

Participants were asked to send in their COVID-19 questions, which were then answered by Health First chief physician executive, Dr. Jeffrey Stalnaker, and Health First Medical Group associate chief medical officer, Dr. Timothy Laird.

Like Aquatic Health, One Senior Place in Viera has remained open throughout the pandemic, but tele-consultations have made contact with the one-stop senior services group easier for many clients. A challenging issue has been seeking assisted living these days.

“There are families calling about moving their parents into assisted living, since they are not able to physically see the assisted living,” said Barbara Fradkin, One Senior Place director.

Local senior communities have overcome that challenge by providing virtual tours.

“The marketing staff in these communities have very successfully moved people into their communities,” Fradkin said.

Lisa Conway, vice president of Care Services at One Senior Place, has also experienced a spike in interest for tele-nursing services, check-ins that are conducted via an app that is downloaded to the patient’s phone or iPad.

“If the client needs help with the technology, then we will have a care manager or caregiver with them to assist,” Conway said.

The patient’s family is also kept in the virtual loop, as long as the agency has the appropriate documentation for the information to be shared.

“We communicate with family members prior to the appointment in case they have questions they would like addressed, and after, we communicate with the family the outcome of the appointment and any new treatments,” Conway said.

In addition to the safety perspective, telehealth offers a psychological bonus.

“Many seniors are verbalizing feelings of depression due to isolation,” Conway said. “These telemeetings have given them the opportunity to interact with their care managers and with others from the outside, which relieves some of the anxiety and helps them feel less isolated.”

Some care managers now even routinely schedule virtual coffee breaks with clients to enjoy a cup of coffee together while catching up.

“This helps bring back a little sense of normalcy, even if it is done virtually,” said Conway.

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About One Senior Place– Now in its 14th year, One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging, is a marketplace of resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their family caregivers in Central and East Central Florida.  Completely unique, One Senior Place at 8085 Spyglass Hill Road in Viera is a one-stop information hub and mini-mall “revolutionizing the way America shops for elder care and services.” One Senior Place is home to a wide variety of senior-focused businesses, a resource library and is the site of educational seminars and presentations for seniors. In 2008, One Senior Place was named Florida’s Small Business of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.  In Brevard, they were honored as  Business of the Year by the Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce.  A second location, One Senior Place Orlando, opened in Altamonte Springs in December of 2011.  More information about One Senior Place and One Senior Place Orlando can be found on the company website at or by calling 321-751-6771.  View their video at