Direct Access to Physical Therapy Services

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In many jurisdictions, direct access to physical therapy services is allowed if and only if a patient gets a prescription or referral from a physician. There is a need to amend these statutes at the state level for two main reasons:

They fail to recognize professional training and expertise of licensed physical therapists.

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They don’t address the needs of patients who require physical therapy but must first be seen by a physician.

In the current environment where health consciousness, wellness and physical fitness have taken center stage one challenge has emerged – the escalating cost of health care services. Since the 1990’s state legislatures have been championing reforms on the burgeoning healthcare system. With this regard, focus has been shifted to two key areas; increasing access to health care services while containing the costs. Funny enough, one of the most effective tools of achieving this feat is often overlooked and underutilized by the legislatures – that of direct access to services offered by health care professionals.

Physical therapy is the case in point. Entry into the profession as well as its practice is stringently regulated in all states. As is the case with all highly trained health care professionals, physical therapists have an impressive track record. Their qualifications cannot be doubted as they undergo both formal and clinical training which enables them to evaluate a patient’s condition, assess their physical therapy needs, and if appropriate, to safely and effectively treat them. In other words, physical therapists are in a good position to recognize when a patient demonstrates conditions, signs, and symptoms that should be evaluated by other health care professionals before therapy is instituted.

The professional training and expertise which characterize a physical therapist have been recognized in 48 states as well as the District of Columbia. These states have repealed outdated statutes which required a patient to get a referral from a physician for physical therapy evaluation and treatment. In addition to this, research findings of a study carried out by Dr. Jean Mitchell (Georgetown University) and Dr. Greg deLissovoy (Johns Hopkins University) show that the states, as well as insurance providers that reimburse under direct access, stand to save approximately $1200 per patient in all the sessions. Try to imagine what this could mean to your state’s workers’ compensation program or the special education department!

If you represent one of the two states that still have statutes barring direct access to physical therapy services, please consider the benefits of reform. By amending the physical therapy act in your state, you’ll be providing your constituents an additional entry point into the traditional medical system, increased choice when it comes to selection of healthcare professionals as well as access to less expensive and timely care. How about that for a simple yet very effective way of achieving the goals of increased access and cost containment?            

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