New merino wool compression socks from SIGVARIS are thermoregulating for all-season comfort.
As at-home care becomes more of a focus for consumers, the industry is shifting from the prescription pad to the HME store aisle
by Graham Miller

The importance of HME footcare products has increased in recent years, primarily due to the rising cost of health care, an increasingly aging population and a substantial rise in obesity- and diabetes-related foot problems. As professional health care becomes more expensive and consistent footcare becomes critical to the health of the average American, patients are seeking varied and cost-effective HME options to assist with self-treatment. Forward-thinking HME providers may find lucrative opportunities to gain long-term customers and see extended increases in footcare-related revenue.

Diabetes and Footcare: A Symbiotic Relationship

Obesity and diabetes are the leading causes of foot-related problems, with at least 15 percent of diabetes patients experiencing serious foot issues during the course of their lifetimes. Foot problems are also the leading cause of hospitalizations among diabetes patients. Those looking to give their feet extra care and attention serve as a prominent market for HME providers. Diabetes-related foot ulcerations can lead to amputations and premature death; in general, however, foot ulcers commonly develop from somewhat minor infections and injuries. Numbness from nerve damage—also common in diabetes—compounds the danger, as the patient may not be aware of injuries. For a patient with diabetes, PediFix Footcare Company marketing director Christopher Case warns that “even minor corns, calluses, bunions, hammer toes and other seemingly innocuous ailments can become life-threatening without preventive care.”

FungaZoilFungaZoil from the PediFix Footcare Company is specially formulated with clotrimazole.

To quickly treat infections and promote overall foot health, Pedifix Footcare Company has developed a new topical antifungal liquid, FungaZoil, which combines the broad-spectrum power of clotrimazole and a penetrating essential oils carrier formula with antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic activity. The product is specially formulated to kill common fungal infections of the skin and those that frequently appear under and around toenails, to maintain nail health and improve appearance. “Old-fashioned tolnaftate and undecylenic antifungal formulas are well-established in other market channels, but are of limited effectiveness,” says Case. “FungaZoil offers DME and related retailers a more modern treatment alternative and a new cash sale item that also generates physician referrals.”

Compression: The Common Key to Better Foot Health

Compression products are also a large component of the footcare industry, and HME providers should be aware of the growth in compression-related product sales. Due to their distance from the heart, feet have their own circulation-related issues, which can be exacerbated by common medical conditions related to weak arteries that reduce the blood flow to the feet, such as peripheral arterial disease and diabetes. As a result, the feet and lower legs may not get the oxygen-rich blood they need. “In general the U.S. population has become more obese and a fair number live a sedentary lifestyle,” says Melissa Gwozdz, communications manager at SIGVARIS North America. “Many people are unaware how much of an impact a simple change of socks can have on the way their legs feel. Thus, the role of the HME provider is important when it comes to compression, as they help fit patients and get them in the appropriate product.” According to Gwozdz, SIGVARIS socks and hosiery help prevent varicose and spider veins and can help prevent the symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency from getting worse. SIGVARIS offers a complete line of graduated compression products, including their Midtown Microfiber line of socks and thigh highs. Constructed from a fine synthetic fiber, these products offer a luxurious, comfortable feel against the skin, with the added benefit of breathability for year-round wear. This fall, SIGVARIS introduced a limited-edition, steel gray color in the Midtown Microfiber product compression line for men, proving that as compression products become more advanced, they also become more stylish. “This product is a perfect fit for men who wear graduated compression daily and is easily dressed up or down to fit any formal or casual occasion,” says Gwozdz. “We also use the finest textile yarns available on the market and have really changed what people expect to see from a manufacturer of graduated compression products.” Compression products appeal to a wide variety of customers, and experts suggest zeroing in on common foot problems such as plantar fasciitis to see an increase in profits. “With our aging population’s desire to remain active, products that can alleviate pain and help patients remain active can provide an excellent cash revenue source,” says Barbara Mauss, sales manager at Swede-O Inc. “Technical developments with materials that address issues such as plantar fasciitis, hyperhidrosis, foot fatigue and neuropathy will provide growth to this market.” Swede-O’s newest addition, introduced last month at Medtrade 2014 and presented at the New Product Showcase, is the FXT Compression Socks, designed to treat plantar fasciitis, heel pain and arch pain. “Plantar fasciitis and heel pain are painful conditions suffered by many,” Mauss says. “Many consumers will complain of heel pain not knowing they have plantar fasciitis, and many times know of other family members or friends with the same problem.” The multiple compression zones of the socks help to support the arch while providing compression to the calcaneus and Achilles tendon.

Common Conditions Require Convenient Solutions

Many other common conditions can affect the skin on the feet or the bones and tissues inside. These range from relatively minor problems such as athlete’s foot to deeper ones such as bunions (misshapen joints in the big toes) and neuromas (painful but benign growths on a nerve). Many Americans hold jobs that keep them on their feet all day, and women especially often force their feet into shoes that don’t give them the room or support they need. These common scenarios serve as yet another opportunity for HME providers to find steady flows of revenue. “HME providers can be more successful in the footcare market in 2015 by looking for cash-bearing, innovative and essential products to sell to patients,” says Alan Schechter, director of sales and marketing at Gordon Brush Manufacturing Company Inc. “In addition, selling products that combine a hard-good, re-useable product with a disposable product will increase sales and profits for HME providers.” Common product categories include specialty foot and toe pads and cushions, post-op splints and braces, insoles, arch supports and foot orthotics, creams, powders and other skincare items, ankle compression and protection sleeves, specialty socks and more. These “combo” products will keep the patient returning to the HME provider’s store, which might motivate them to purchase additional products while there. To meet the daily need for multifunctional and widely available footcare products for even common footcare needs, Gordon Brush offers the new FootMate System to make optimal foot health more convenient. The FootMate System is a brush and specially formulated gel that goes on in the bath or shower to clean and massage the user’s feet without having to bend over.

FootMateGordon Brush’s FootMate System provides a cleansing massage that doesn’t require bending over.

“The product is great for the elderly, diabetics, anyone with back or foot problems, pregnant women, athletes, people who have trouble bending or seeing their feet while showering or bathing or anyone wanting a soothing, stimulating way to clean and massage their feet in the shower,” says Schechter. The FootMate’s wide, gentle inner bristles massage tender soles, while the stiffer outer bristles stimulate circulation and smooth rough skin and calluses. The contoured bristles, shaped to cradle the foot, create an invigorating massage and extra cleaning power for both the bottom and sides of the feet. Designed for convenience, the FootMate system is a complete system perfect for customers who want consistent footcare options to prevent future foot-related issues.

Healthy Feet, Healthy Lifestyles, Healthy Profits

Helping consumers self-treat their foot conditions to relieve pain, make shoes more comfortable and remain active has an overall positive impact on the health care community. The expanding selection of medical footcare items available in the retail space also allows consumers to obtain many of the specialized products that were once only available through doctors. In tandem with increased availability, researching and marketing to new demographics can help increase profits as well. Schechter recommends that HME providers look to increase profits by becoming “intimately acquainted” with other health care providers, such as podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons, and make themselves known to the various health care settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers. Schechter also notes that competitive bidding and lower Medicare reimbursement rates will drive HME providers to seek more cash-paying products. “The increase in obesity- and diabetes-related footcare problems and the demand for everyday footcare products will cause prices to rise, as manufacturers do not need to subjugate prices to conform to what is reimbursed,” points out Schechter. Case, of PediFix, agrees, and maintains that the long-term profit outlook for the footcare industry is an increasingly positive one. “Medicare payments for diabetic shoes and insoles seem to have improved patient outcomes, but most other footcare products are not reimbursed. As HME profits are cut by lower reimbursements for other health care products, offering footcare items for cash sales is proving helpful to retailers.” Mauss suggests that HME providers looking to increase their cash revenue and expand their retail businesses should target the aging baby boomer population in the United States. “Baby boomers want to remain active and the key to remaining active is good foot health,” says Mauss. “Most of the current footcare products are not reimbursable, and that will not change. Many patients tend to self-medicate and look for solutions for their foot pain. This will provide a significant opportunity for the HME provider to expand on their retail business.” Provider self-education and customer education on the range and availability of footcare products, as well as the need for everyday footcare health, will immediately increase revenue and lock in a long-term, high-frequency customer base.