A study released in October of 2011 highlights the importance of patient direct access to physical therapy services. Most patients referred to physical therapy are referred by their doctors. Increasingly over the years patients are referring themselves to physical therapy, that’s if they live in a direct access state. Currently 46 States (including Maryland) and the District of Columbia allow some sort of direct access to physical therapy services. This has not always been the case and has been something that PTs have fought for for years. Medicare still requires a prescription for physical therapy and the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) continues to aggressively lobby for direct access for Medicare patients.
This retrospective study looked at over 62,000 episodes of physical therapy services using a private insurance over a span of 5 years. More than 45,000 were referred by physicians and over 17,000 were self-referred. The study concluded that there was lower use of physical therapy services in the self-referred group and that the self-referred group was similarly engaged in the medical care system during their intervention and afterwards.
Why is direct access so important? Well, for many reasons but let’s make it simple. Early and appropriate intervention leads to better outcomes. Better outcomes means fewer visits and fewer visits means decreased healthcare costs. This has multiple possible beneficial implications. Fewer costs to insurance companies, decreasing likelihood of a condition becoming chronic and most importantly happier, healthier and more functional patients. This study only confirms what patients have been telling me for years, “I wish I would have come to therapy sooner”.