Kristy Tabers, CFts, is glad she made the switch from teeth to feet. Or rather, orthodontics to orthopedic shoes.
“I worked in an orthodontist’s office for 12 years,” said Tabers, the ABC-certified staff therapeutic shoe fitter at Stone-Lang Co. in Murray, Ky. “Everybody I see is a patient with diabetes. I love being able to help people take care of their feet and, especially, help keep them from having to have an amputation.”
Stone-Lang is a medical products and hearing aid company that was founded as a family-owned drug store in 1876. In addition to branches in Murray and in nearby Paducah, the firm also has branches in Fulton and Marion, Ky.
Tabers went to work for Stone-Lang in Murray in 2007 as a receptionist but switched to shoe fitting when the branch began specializing in footwear for people with diabetes. She earned the CFts credential in 2012.
“I am a people person,” she told O&P Business News. “I didn’t want to be stuck behind a cubicle as a receptionist.”
Comfort and education
Although her main job is fitting shoes, Tabers also helps clean and service hearing aids at the facility, which is a converted pre-World War II vintage house.
“People have come in and commented that they used to play bridge with the people who lived here,” Tabers said.
But comfort, not cards, is her business. So is patient education.
“Some of our patients are aware that proper shoes can prevent an amputation, but some are not,” Tabers said. “Socks are important, too.” Therapeutic socks wick away moisture and are seamless, which helps prevent sores.
Tabers was able to head off a potentially limb-threatening wound in a patient with neuropathy.
“I also have to explain to the patient if their feet get cramped up in their shoes or if their shoes pinch or rub, that can cause a sore that they can’t feel if they have neuropathy, and that can cause major problems.”
“A woman came in one day with a needle stuck in the bottom of her foot. I referred her to her doctor. I stress to my patients that it is very important for them to wear shoes all the time, even house shoes around the house,” she said.
She said it can be difficult sometimes to coax a style-conscious patient into a pair of therapeutic shoes.
“I’m not a diabetic but I wear the shoes myself,” Tabers said, pointing to what looked like a pair of regular athletic shoes on her feet.
“They are comfortable. Wearing them makes it easier for me to convince people to try the shoes, a lot of which are more stylish these days. We even have a high heel therapeutic shoe. Women like having options in the shoes they can wear.”
Tabers carefully examines and measures her customers’ feet with a Brannock device or a Ritz stick.
“The first time a patient comes in, I’ll spend 30 minutes with them,” Tabers said. “If I see a problem, I will refer them to a doctor. Many times, we are the first line of defense, like with the lady with the needle.”
She said the personal service usually surprises first-time patients. “I check the temperature in their feet and look for signs of an infection and other problems. They say, ‘I didn’t realize you do all that.’ When I measure their feet, they say they haven’t had their feet measured in years and are thankful that I measured them.”
Tabers said fitting shoes is more than measuring.
“You have to take into consideration the shape of the foot and the problems you are dealing with. I see a lot of edema. Also, there’s difficulty if the patient has a narrow heel and a bunion.”
Part of the team
She only dispenses heat-moldable inserts. She refers patients who need shoe modifications or custom orthoses to an O&P facility.
“We consider ourselves part of the health care team. We also work with endocrinologists and family physicians,” she said.
Like others on the health care team, she talks about lifestyle changes with patients. If they smoke, she encourages them to stop. She also offers tips on losing weight.
“But how far I go depends on the person, if they seem receptive,” she said.
Tabers said some of her patients simply like to talk.
“Older people especially want to talk. A lot of our patients are returning patients. I get to know about their kids and grandkids,” she said. “Getting to know patients is the fun part of my job.”
She said compliance is not a problem with most of her patients.
“Almost all of them are easygoing and want to help themselves. Sometimes, I get somebody who doesn’t want to wear the shoes. If that happens, I try to explain to them the benefits of wearing the shoes and how the shoes are going to help them.”
Some patients, Tabers said, are not aware of that they may be eligible for help under Medicare Part B.
“I explain it to them. You can purchase diabetic shoes outright, but you can’t file for Medicare unless a doctor certifies that you have diabetes. I can help them fill out the paperwork.”