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By Hilda S. Mitrani

 
July 10 2020 – In July of 2019, Shakeema Smiley, 36, of North Miami had her second baby, but the newest addition to her family wasn’t allowed to come home until March 2020, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
Lori Smiley was born at 24 weeks and weighed only 1.9 lbs. She also has chronic lung disease. Her pulmonologist’s office is in South Miami Hospital – quite a distance, and an ordeal when your child requires medical transport to go anywhere. But the pandemic created a silver lining: Lori’s pulmonologist, Dr. Kunjana Mavunda, had started offering virtual visits.
 
“Telehealth has literally saved her life,” Smiley said. “The prep time to gather all her medical supplies to leave the house is about an hour – there’s no way I could do that every week,” she added. But with telehealth, Dr. Mavunda can check in on Lori regularly.
 
“Before I could only see patients every 3-4 weeks,” Dr. Mavunda said, explaining that it’s often difficult to transport babies with such delicate health conditions. “Now, I’m able to follow them closely and better,” she said. “I’m always pro-change – we have to change with life,” she added.
 
Dr. Mavunda works for Kidz Medical (Kidz), a multispecialty group that provides pediatric, neonatal, and obstetrical healthcare at hospitals and outpatient clinics in seven counties in  South Florida. When Coronavirus hit, Kidz was quick to offer telehealth, giving parents and patients who were already in a difficult situation some comfort, knowing that their doctors would now be seeing them in their homes via video chat.
 
“Now our patients can have a telemedicine visit within 48-72 hours of being discharged from the hospital,” said Dr. Jorge Perez, the co-founder of Kidz Medical. “It’s actually a better solution because it’s not good for babies that are immunocompromised to be in a pediatrician’s office,” he added.
 
Having a doctor give a patient a call is nothing new, but the video component has become possible with the advent of technology. While technology has allowed for it for some years, insurance companies’ desire not to cover many virtual visits and HIPAA restrictions on what video chat capabilities were permitted, created some steep hurdles for broader implementation. The need that ensued as a result of COVID-19 forced and accelerated the change.
 
The eventual change has helped many and quelled nerves. Before Coronavirus halted all international travel, Krissy Ducanes, 39, of Homestead and her family were planning a trip to South Africa, but their daughter developed persistent coughing. Her pediatrician said her oxygen levels were too low and recommended she see a pediatric pulmonologist. While Dr. Mavunda’s office in South Miami was far from their Homestead home, they decided she was the most equipped. 
 
A bronchoscopy performed on March 1st, which can only be performed in-person, gave Dr. Mavunda more clarity on the matter and guided her in prescribing the right medication. “After that, all the appointments have been virtual, and it’s amazing to me,” Ducanes said. Dr. Mavunda only sees patients virtually that she has already seen in person. 
 
“We live quite far from her office and the night-time is the scariest – you really do feel alone when you have a sick child – but when the doctor can check-in, it gives you peace of mind,” Ducanes added.