In Ontario, there are two terms for a foot specialist: a chiropodist and a podiatrist.
Many prospective patients ask themselves if there is a difference between the two occupations. They assume there must be since there wouldn’t be two words for one specialty, right?
But the truth is, there are very few differences between chiropodists and podiatrists. Even if you research the definition of both professions, you can be left feeling just as confused as when you started. You’ll often find that the internet tells you that they are healthcare professionals who tend to the feet, so what gives?!
Despite your confusion, there are some reasons medical experts split foot care experts into two categories. Let’s explore why the healthcare world doesn’t simply settle on one term!
Podiatry and Chiropody: Key Differences
Now that we have a clear understanding of each profession, the question remains; why does the medical industry insist on preserving two terms for foot specialists?
The terms are not interchangeable, despite how similar they are. Let’s look at why.
It takes longer to become a podiatrist. According to the Ontario Podiatric Medical Association, podiatrists must complete a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) degree. This is a four-year post-baccalaureate program. On the other hand, chiropodists complete a post-secondary diploma in chiropody. Furthermore, both often have additional education in a science-related field from an accredited university.
Terminology and Word Choice
Even though they don’t go to a traditional medical school, you can use the term “foot doctor” to describe a podiatrist, as podiatrists obtain their D.P.M. You should not use this term to describe a chiropodist, although “foot care expert” and “foot specialist” certainly qualify.
Podiatrists can “communicate a diagnosis” to their patients, which stems from Ontario law granting them one of the six primary care professions in the province. This does not mean that a chiropodist cannot participate in effective communication with their patient.
With their background in sports medicine, a podiatrist may be a better fit for someone experiencing a foot/ankle fracture or sprain. They’re also the only foot specialists able to perform surgeries on the forefoot bones. One may be able to argue that a podiatrist is better suited for a severe condition requiring surgical intervention. For example, surgery for severe heel spurs or bunions.
However, a chiropodist can also address foot conditions and may be a better fit for establishing follow-up visits, ongoing care, foot care treatments, and giving advice on managing your foot health.
For more information about the things a chiropodist can and cannot do, visit our FAQ.
As of May 2022, there are over 600 chiropodists and only 60 podiatrists in Ontario. With limited access to podiatry, it’s important to reiterate that those suffering from foot issues can explore chiropody and don’t have to wait for a podiatrist to become available. Of course, the exception is if you require bone surgery.
In addition, unlike a podiatrist, you do not need a referral to see a chiropodist (although your private extended benefits may require one for coverage).
Podiatrists can bill OHIP. Chiropodists cannot bill to OHIP, but they can bill companies that offer extended healthcare coverage, like Manulife and Sunlife.
Can a Chiropodist and Podiatrist Treat the Same Conditions?
Unless you require surgery on the bones in your feet, or you are not covered by extended health insurance and need OHIP coverage, you can see a chiropodist instead of a podiatrist.
It can be difficult to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist, so there’s no reason to neglect the expertise, kindness and care a chiropodist can offer you. Plus, they treat the same conditions as podiatrists, which include (but are not limited to):
- Skin conditions such as calluses, corns, plantar warts, and cracked heels.
- Toenail conditions like ingrown toenails, cracked toenails, and discoloured toenails.
- Structural abnormalities that cause foot pain, like Plantar fasciitis, osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and bunions.
- Contagious conditions such as fungal toenail and athlete’s foot.
- Additional conditions like foot odour.
- Diabetic foot care, assistance and guidance.