The pandemic has forced many companies and practices to change the way they do business. Most of those changes are geared to reduce opportunities for direct contact with clients and co-workers, in the hopes that when the coronavirus has passed, workplaces will return to their previous and preferred models.
Sophia Pelton has been a practicing physical therapist for nearly 20 years, working both in hospital-based outpatient settings and an orthopedic outpatient clinic. Like many doctors with the word “therapist” in their titles, she has seen her profession tossed into disarray by the coronavirus. However, unlike many in the medical field, Pelton has managed to use the pandemic as an opportunity to change course and set her own path.
In June, just months after a state-mandated shelter-in-place was lifted, Pelton launched Age Well NC, a mobile physical therapy practice that caters to clients seeking personalized care to help them heal from orthopedic problems.
Age Well NC offers concierge-style attention, including therapy sessions in the client’s home or office, on a client’s deck or even outdoors in a park. So far the response from Pelton’s clients has been positive.
“My patients love it,” she said. “I decided that I had the skills and the confidence to meet people where they were. I deliver services outside, in some people’s garages. I’ll deliver patients’ services at their community parks, or inside their homes. On their back deck. We have a lot of airflow, a lot of space. The pandemic kind of boosted my business model because people don’t want to be around other people right now, but they still have a lot of issues from which they need to heal. My practice is also geared more toward people who are busy and active and don’t have time to go to a PT clinic. They want someone they can get in touch with right away. I give my patients my phone number and they call if they have any questions or problems, and I am accessible. I enjoy being accessible and being a part of their care team.”
Emily Hege, who lives just outside of Hillsborough, has been a client of Age Well NC for nearly three months. After knee surgery, Hege required physical therapy, which she was receiving in a typical clinic setup.
“It was not a good experience,” Hege said. “I would pay the co-pay and receive therapy with six other people. Then I’d get a list of exercises to do at home.”
Hege said the individual attention she received from Pelton made a significant impact.
“I was pain-free after the first session,” Hege recalled. “She got to the root of the problem. Now we’re strengthening through exercise and manipulation.”
One of the key advantages to the concierge and mobile physical therapy model is individual attention.
“We typically schedule our initial evaluation one-on-one, so if you come to see me I’ll have an hour to spend with you,” Pelton said. “I’ll evaluate your problem and discuss and share my assessment as to what impairments you have that are creating your functional deficit. And then I’ll set up a plan to work with you. That’s pretty standard if you go to a clinic, or if I come to your home. Where the difference is when you’re going to a clinic, when you come back for that second session, typically your therapist is sharing you with two or three other patients. You’re not getting that same connection, that same focus that you had during your first session. All of my patients and all of my visits are one-on-one. The whole time I’m giving my patients my full attention. All of the education, all of the manual therapy. All of those evidence-based exercises that are appropriate. And my patients are getting better quicker. They’re better motivated because we’re so connected.”
While many therapies have gone the virtual route in COVID times, Pelton, who has lived in Hillsborough since 2014, said she continues to prefer the hands-on approach to physical therapy.
“I haven’t done many virtual sessions, and I don’t intend to,” she said. “If you need education, I can do that virtually, but most conditions I treat really do need hands-on therapy. A lot of therapists are doing virtual, and it seems to be working for them. I’ve just developed a lot of manual therapy skills over 19 years and that’s how I feel like I function best.”
Even though sessions are one-on-one, safety is key to creating a comfortable environment for both the client and Pelton. “We wash hands before sessions, all tables are wiped down and disinfected before and after each session. I wear a mask and my patients wear a mask. I wear eye protection and, if I’m dry-needling, I wear gloves,” she said.
Pelton’s work as a physical therapist focuses mostly on orthopedics, which is joints and spine. She works with patients of all ages, including clients as young as 12-years-old and as advanced as 103-years-old.
Pelton said she hasn’t seen an uptick in injuries during the pandemic, but she has seen more people being reluctant about going to gyms, or exercising while wearing masks.
“When you exercise with a mask, it does become more difficult to breathe,” Pelton said. “There’s no drop in the oxygen saturation — that’s important. But it creates a situation where patients don’t want to do the work. If I can be outside with people and they can be far away from me and I can wear a mask while they exercise at a safe distance, they may feel more comfortable. Our joints are meant to move, so if they’re not moving, or people are sitting all day at their desks, there could be a rise in injuries just from lack of physical activity.”
Providing this level of personal attention could become difficult as the client base at Age Well NC grows, but Pelton said she is not worried.
“My professional goal for next year is to hire another staff therapist to work with me,” she said. “Of course, I’ll be looking for someone who shares my business’ philosophy and is integrated into Hillsborough as a community. I love Hillsborough.
Pelton said she mostly sees patients in Orange County and in parts of Durham. Her sessions run, on average, for an hour, although the first session often runs longer. Patients do not need a prescription to schedule an appointment with Age Well NC.
“I’m credentialed with Medicare, so I do accept Medicare insurance,” Pelton said. “We can evaluate Medicare patients without a prescription, but we are not supposed to treat without getting our plan of care signed within 30 days. I accept out-of-network benefits with private insurance. Patients are responsible to find out if they have out-of-network benefits, and then they submit for reimbursement. They pay me cash. The other thing about my practice is it’s morphing as I go. I have clients who have purchased a package of therapy from me. The two of them are active and if they get hurt, I sell them a package of six sessions and they use that when they need it. They pay me up front and call when they need a session.”
For more information about Age Well NC, go to www.agewellnc.com. For questions about rates, call (919) 514-3302.