December 2012

Dr. Comfort: Diabetic footwear: A simple goal for a complicated problem

Diabetic footwear: A simple goal for a complicated problem

By Larry Hand

The goal at Dr. Comfort is simple: Provide products that can help diabetic patients prevent amputations.

“Prevention of diabetic amputations motivated the founding of Dr. Comfort, and it’s what motivates us to keep growing every year,” said Greg Karian, CPed, marketing director of the Mequon, WI, company.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have suggested that recent dramatic declines in diabetic amputation rates can be attributed to improvements in preventive care, including appropriate foot care and patient education. Accord­ing to a CDC study in the February 2012 issue of Diabetes Care, US rates for nontraumatic lower extremity amputa­tions in patients aged 40 years or older diagnosed with diabetes declined from 11.2 per 1000 in 1996 to 3.9 per 1000 in 2008.

“To think something as simple as proper footwear can help reduce these rates is quite an inspiration,” Karian said. “When the CDC announced that amputation rates had been reduced by half since the mid-1990s, we were very encouraged that we had played a part.”

Although that declining rate is encouraging, there is another side to the coin. According to an article published November 16, 2012 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, prevalence of diagnosed diabetes has skyrocketed since the mid-1990s. In the US and Puerto Rico, the researchers estimated that 18.8 million persons had diagnosed diabetes in 2010, and another 7 million had undiagnosed diabetes.

The researchers calculated that the age-adjusted prevalence of diagnosed diabetes shot up from 6% or greater for three states in 1995 to 6% or greater in all states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico in 2010. The prevalence grew by 50% or more in 42 states and by 100% or more in 18 states.

That’s quite an audience to educate about foot care and footwear, and many of them are not being reached. “We estimate that fewer than 15% of the people who have a medical need for diabetic shoes and qualify for Medicare reimbursement actually receive them,” Karian explained. “Healthy competition helps raise awareness of the benefits of diabetic footwear and helps us with our mission to prevent more diabetic amputations. There are a lot more people out there we all can help.”

Founded in 2002, Dr. Comfort has grown into a worldwide leader in the provision of diabetic footwear. The company employs more than 200 people, including a number of certified pedorthists, and occupies a 100,000-square-foot main facility, plus an 80,000-square-foot warehouse.

“We ship out about four thousand pairs of shoes a day and do our best to ship every order the day after we receive it,” Karian said. “We’ve grown every year we’ve been in business and we continue to have aggressive growth goals, both domestically and abroad.”

DJO Global, a medical devices and services company in Vista, CA, acquired Dr. Comfort in 2011.

“Transitions like these are always a challenge, but I’d say we’re well past all the major bumps in the road,” Karian said. “Every step of the way they’ve allowed us to remain true to the things that have made Dr. Comfort a leader in our industry. On top of that, the re­sources and support of DJO have really helped us kick into the next gear when it comes to innovation. The number of great new products we’re rolling out in 2013 is more than we’ve ever had slated for a single year.” (See “New year=new products,” p 60.)

The reason for Dr. Comfort’s success? Two things: ease of doing business with practitioners, and the focus on quality, comfort, and style in shoes.

“The beauty and comfort of our shoes are what truly set us apart,” Karian said. “Diabetic shoes do nothing for the patient who receives them and then leaves them in their closet for the next
12 months. At Dr. Comfort, we’ve always understood the simple fact that people will wear their shoes more if they love the way they look and love the way they feel.”

Almost all of Dr. Comfort’s business is conducted through lower extremity practitioners in various specialties. The company does not bill insurance companies or the government. Shoes and other products are available for purchase on the company’s website, but visitors are encouraged to go through a professional for fitting.

In addition to products for preventing amputations, the company also has a large pedorthic laboratory that makes custom diabetic inserts and toe fillers for patients who’ve already undergone amputations.

“One of the things that sets us apart is that we do all special accommodations at no additional charge,” Karian said. “We do the same with remakes and adjust­ments, when needed—no charge. It goes back to our founding philosophy of helping the provider ensure the absolute best fit for their patients.”

Larry Hand is a writer in Massachusetts.

Article sponsored by Dr. Comfort.

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