5 Little Known Facts About the Benefit of Direct Access to Physical Therapy

Therapeutic Associates

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Think back to the last time you experienced an injury. You might’ve been lifting something heavy and tweaked your back. Or maybe you increased the mileage of your running program too quickly and started experiencing pain in your thigh. When you are injured or in pain, you want the quickest path to relief and recovery as possible so that you can get back to doing what you love. But did you know that you don’t need to visit a doctor before visiting a physical therapist to get the care you need? Direct access to physical therapy gives you that option, and you could be on the road to recovery before you know it!

How does direct access work?

Direct access to physical therapy is pretty much as it sounds — your ability to receive care directly from a physical therapist of your choice first, without the need for a referral from another healthcare provider. Physical therapists have experience in evaluating musculoskeletal conditions or injuries and identifying any “red flags” that could require the need for more advanced medical attention. If your physical therapist suspects you need treatment beyond what they can provide, they will refer you to a physician or specialist for further examination. Otherwise, they will work with you individually to create a personalized treatment plan to help start the healing process.

Why is direct access important to me?

Time spent waiting is time that could be spent healing. With direct access, you can see a physical therapist without the need for a physician’s referral, which reduces the potential wait time that could occur when trying to see a primary care physician first. Direct access expedites the process in getting you the hands-on care needed.

Not only can seeing a physical therapist first get you the care you need quicker, it’s also proven to be more cost-effective. Addressing a musculoskeletal injury with a general practitioner prior to seeking physical therapy can lead to additional costs. Physical therapy first often reduces the need for injections, imaging, and medications. In fact, with direct access to physical therapy, studies conclude that fewer PT visits may be needed, leading to a quicker recovery.

Physical therapy is a safe alternative to many of the medications prescribed to mask pain. With direct access to physical therapy, you can receive the benefits quickly, and are, therefore, less likely to utilize pain medications, helping to reduce the potential burden of opioid addiction.

By seeking physical therapy first, you benefit by not needing to enter other primary care facilities, urgent care centers, or emergency departments to receive treatment or a referral. This helps to minimize your risk of exposure to illnesses such as the flu, COVID-19, or the common cold in these facilities where they are often prevalent. Additionally, this frees up appointment slots for those who are sick and needing the attention of those healthcare providers.

A study completed by the Journal of Orthopaedic Sports Physical Therapy found the clinical diagnostic accuracy by physical therapists and orthopaedic surgeons on patients with musculoskeletal injuries to be statistically the same. Both provider types had significantly greater accuracy than that of non-orthopaedic providers, by more than double. Additionally, physical therapists are trained to spot “red flags” that may point to the need for more extensive medical treatment through a referral to a specialist.

J ortho Sports Phys Ther, Vol 35, No 2, Feb 2005

Will my insurance cover my direct access to physical therapy visits?

Most insurance companies cover physical therapy services without a referral (direct access). However, there are some insurance plans that may require a physician referral. We encourage you to review your insurance requirements prior to making an appointment, and if you need assistance verifying these benefits, we are more than happy to help!

For more information about our insurance verification process, click here.

Don’t wait! Schedule with your physical therapist today.

If you’re suffering from a back, neck, knee, shoulder, or other musculoskeletal condition that causes limitations in your functional movement, a visit to one of our highly trained physical therapists is a safe place to start your road to recovery.

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