Sunday, September 14, 2003

Father, daughter take foot care a step higher



By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Dr. Kristin Titko and her father, Dr. Jerry Titko, run a father-daughter practice, headquartered in Evendale, that now boasts eight locations.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
Podiatrists Jerry and Kristin Titko always want to keep their practice moving forward.

The father-and-daughter team has expanded its business dramatically over an eight-year period by channeling their efforts in three directions: patient care, marketing and education. Currently, The Center for Foot Care has offices in Evendale, Hamilton, Finneytown, Clifton, Bridgetown, Westwood (in the Franciscan Mercy-Western Hills Medical Building), Mount Healthy and Erlanger.

The first step, according to Jerry Titko, was to establish high standards in the practice he founded in Hamilton in 1964. In addition to the medical training he obtained at the Cleveland-based Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine, he undertook a two-year surgical residency.

He prescribed the same professional preparation for his daughter and requires it of all podiatric associates he hires.

Although the requirement significantly narrows the field of potential candidates, the enhanced experience translates to better patient care, he believes.

"People in our group can do almost any type of foot or ankle surgery," he said. "Eighty percent of podiatrists in the U.S. can't do this kind of extensive surgery."

Titko says he's also choosy about staffing his practice.

"At least 80 percent of our medical assistants have gone to medical assistant school for at least two years," he said. "We don't hire off the street."

And there's only one phone number for patients to remember, regardless of which office they are calling.

"It took me two years to get a centralized number," he said. "They told me it couldn't be done, but I told them, 'LaRosa's does it.' "

All calls come to the center's main office in Evendale, where specially trained staff members answer them.

"They can answer any question anybody has," he said. "That's the first contact that a patient has with a doctor, and I want it to be a professional, helpful one. They can transfer a patient to any doctor, any biller, any location."

Since Titko no longer sees patients, he is free to concentrate on these and other details of practice management he believes are essential to providing good patient care. That has included moving all patient records onto computer files, organizing medical assistants into teams that work consistently with the same doctor, and developing a survey mechanism that elicits feedback from patients about the care they receive.

The second step in developing the practice has been to market its services to referring physicians such as family practitioners, pediatricians and orthopedists.

Said Kristin Titko: "We have done a lot in terms of going out - performing grand rounds at hospitals where we get together with family doctors; going to their individual offices and talking with them. When I started practicing nine years ago, no one had ever done that, and the doctors were incredulous.

"We wanted them to gain confidence in us, to see that we were professional."

"We affiliate with them in any way we can," added her father. "We even have our doctors working with them at their location."

The Titkos see education as an essential part of building a broad network among referring physicians.

"Our goal is to help them to learn how to properly treat foot problems, and to know what to refer to us," Kristin Titko explained. "Many times, a doctor's training stops at the ankle.

"We send out periodic newsletters to primary care physicians, and we have medical students from UC as well as podiatry students rotating through our practice so they'll be better informed."

Educating related professionals and the general public is also a major emphasis of the center's podiatrists. Kristin Titko lectures nationwide on a variety of topics; the other four doctors share their expertise locally.

"If we're talking with the lay public, it's on a topic of their choice, such as female foot problems, sports-related foot problems, common conditions, or foot care for senior citizens," Kristin Titko said. "We also do a lot of television news segments on new techniques or seasonal foot care."

As a result of its ties with primary care physicians around the Tristate, The Center for Foot Care has received requests to open offices in West Chester and Anderson townships.

"Medical doctors want us in those areas," Jerry Titko said.

E-mail jcallison@zoomtown.com



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