Are Foot Massages The Demise Of The Podiatric Profession?

Apparently, a foot massage is a very touchy subject so I thought I would throw it out there for discussion.

I recently posted on Facebook about my dental appointment. During this appointment, the staff offered a paraffin treatment for my hands and … a foot massage while they cleaned my teeth. As a patient, I was blown away by their customer service and quite frankly, it did just what good marketing is supposed to do. I told 10 people who told 10 people, etc.

My post got a quick challenge from one of my DPM readers: “We shouldn’t lower ourselves to providing foot massages. It sends a negative message to the public that the podiatrist is no different than the pedicurist. Things like this are why our profession is ‘oppressed,’ constantly fighting for status.”

I have worked in and with many successful practices, and never thought our profession was oppressed. In my 30-plus years of giving foot massages to very appreciative patients, there was never one who came to our office because he or she confused the podiatrist with the pedicurist. We were very secure in the fact that we had a highly successful, busy practice because of the medical and surgical podiatric services that were provided.

We used this time to treat and educate our patients, simply because awareness can lead to better outcomes. This is critical in growing and influencing the type of practice you want. We also understood that educating patients helps build the reputation of our practices, the DPM and the role of podiatric medicine.

Giving foot massages is not the way some podiatrists want to go. I get it. However, businesses can achieve customer service in many ways. When I get the oil changed, I am offered a copy of USA Today and I do not mistake the mechanic for a newsstand. Coffee shops include Wi-Fi. I am aware they specialize in lattes, not Internet technology.

Does it challenge podiatry’s identity just because the staff offers a foot massage? Do we have to choose between providing quality medical/surgical care and/or quality customer service? My experiences tell me that we can deliver both simultaneously.

If defining the podiatric profession depends upon whether we choose to add a foot massage as an extra customer service, then we are in trouble. It makes our patients happy and the smiles on their faces mean we have not only touched their soles but their souls as well. In the end, isn't that what patient care is all about? My view is there is nothing bad about feeling good during an office visit. This is just my opinion. What are your thoughts?



J. John Hoy, DPM, FACFAS, FACFAOMsays: June 7, 2012 at 8:10 pm

The debate goes on whether podiatrists should provide some pedicure services as a standard of customer service. After all, what is wrong with giving a patient a foot massage or paraffin wax during an office visit? Isn’t that like providing a newspaper at the mechanic’s shop?

It would seem that way unless the profession is taken into context. There has been well-documented misunderstanding about the profession historically in this manner. When I was a student and told people that I was going to podiatry school, the usual reply was, “Oh, I bet you’ll learn to do some great foot massages!”

Um, not at all. We’re learning about the Lauge-Hansen ankle fracture classification, the Weil osteotomy for lesser metatarsals and casting out the forefoot supinatus in the supine subtalar neutral orthotic casting position. At dinner parties, when I tell people I am a podiatrist, the reply is often, “That’s just a glorified pedicurist.” Really? Try a physician and surgeon of the foot and ankle. Please don’t take away my medical degree.

At an outside clinic, after I am finished with checking a patient’s feet and performed the necessary at-risk foot care procedures, I have been asked: “Aren’t you going to soak my feet and buff my nails?” Um, no, that’s a pedicurist. I’m a podiatrist.

As difficult as it is every day, I try to keep focus on providing excellent medical, surgical and administrative services.

Recently, a management specialist cited that adding foot spa or pedicure services is necessary for good podiatric customer service. I totally disagree. I believe this confuses the public. It is irrelevant whether this service is performed by the podiatrist or delegated to a staff member. These services were never taught in podiatric medical school or residency, and we should not be obligated to perform them as the definition of good customer service. These strategies dilute and overshadow legitimate podiatric medical, biomechanical and surgical services, and confirm stereotypes by which the profession has historically been mischaracterized.

In our office, podiatry is podiatry, pedicure is something else somewhere else, and there is no mixing. Let us do what we were educated to do by realizing our full scope of practice and don’t expect us to do what we were not educated to do.

Ultimately, it is up to the physicians and surgeons to decide how to use their education, what services are provided in the office, how they promote themselves, and what impact that will have on the profession as a whole.

There are many ways to provide good customer service. Helping a patient out of the treatment chair, putting on shoes, escorting them to their ride, smiling, listening, accuracy, good scheduling, a hug, asking about their recent trip, going out of the way to arrange for specialty services. These are the real trademarks of good podiatric customer service.

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