The folks at Dr. Comfort in Mequon, WI, have been excitedly awaiting the arrival of the new year for a while, because 2013 will be a year to offer new products to practitioners’ diabetic patients—and a year to launch a new product outside the company’s traditional realm.
“In 2013, we’re rolling out a new line of shoes to help people who suffer from osteoarthritis knee pain,” said Greg Karian, marketing director. “The intent of this line is similar to diabetic footwear—to move more costly and invasive treatments further down the road or eliminate them altogether. Our hopes are that this line of footwear will do for the treatment of osteoarthritis (OA) knee pain what diabetic shoes have done for the treatment of diabetic foot health. This fits our broader mission of providing attractive, top quality footwear products that help people live more active and healthy lives.”
Dr. Comfort specialists have been working with researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago to develop the Flex-OA shoe, which is scheduled for release in January. The patented X-Sole Relief Technology is designed to reduce load on the knee.
“While the Flex-OA is a departure from our model of serving diabetic patients, it’s actually very similar in many ways,” he continued. “Think of the two disease states. When you’re first diagnosed with diabetes, if you don’t take good care of your feet, you’re on a path toward possible amputation. Likewise, with osteoarthritis, you’re on a path toward possible knee replacement. Just as diabetic footwear is designed to push that amputation further down the road or prevent it altogether, the Flex-OA is designed to do the same for knee replacement.”
Dr. Comfort is offering the shoe as a “passive treatment” alternative to the traditional OA treatments including physical therapy, weight loss, pain relievers, and other oral medications. “These treatments are often met with frustration and often do little to slow the progression of the disease,” Karian said. “Changing the shoes you wear is a much more passive treatment. When we get up in the morning and leave the house, we all put on a pair of shoes.” The Flex-OA shoes will retail for about $110 to $130 a pair.
For its traditional audience of diabetic patients, Dr. Comfort will be introducing another new product within its Classic Heels Comfort Collection: the company’s first women’s diabetic shoe with a higher heel (1.25”). “We’ve invested a great deal of time and effort into addressing the concerns any shoe with a heel might pose for a diabetic patient, from stability and support to forefoot pressure,” Karian said. “The patent-pending design on these shoes virtually eliminates the forefoot pressure a practitioner would expect to see in a heeled shoe.”
Before getting to the final product, company specialists went through considerable clinical testing and redesign. They also incorporated a Boa closure system, a proprietary closure system with a mechanical reel, to help eliminate potential heel slippage. Various styles and colors will be available.
“We’ll also be introducing our new Open Comfort Collection,” Karian said. This will be a line of sandal-style shoes featuring removable foot beds to allow for custom accommodative or functional inserts. The line will also feature various materials, textures, and styles, including jeweled accents for some women’s shoes.
“In addition to these three new products, we also have several more slated for 2013 release, including some great style and color enhancements to our current line of diabetic shoes,” Karian said.
Innovation is critical to Dr. Comfort, he added. “Diabetic patients consider their Dr. Comfort shoes to be an apparel item—not a medical device. Since diabetic footwear is an annual insurance benefit, most of these patients are coming back year after year for their new shoes. They expect to see the latest and greatest from Dr. Comfort, as do our providers.”
Two of the new products, Flex-OA and the Open Comfort Collection, are not reimbursable products under Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance. “As we continue to look at new products and innovations—which we’re always doing—we’ll certainly always look for reimbursement opportunities,” Karian explained. “But the key questions we’ll be asking ourselves are these: One, does it provide a medical benefit to the patients our providers serve; two, does it keep us focused on our area of expertise—footwear—and, three, does it fit our overall mission?”
Reimbursement for shoes and diabetic inserts hasn’t decreased like it has for other products and services, but healthcare is experiencing constant change in guidelines and practices, Karian said. “The good news is that today’s consumer understands these changes, too. Accordingly, they take more command of their own healthcare. And, especially when we look at the target audience that needs what we provide most—baby boomers—they have cash they’re willing to invest to remain healthy and active.”
Larry Hand is a writer in Massachusetts.