As a physical therapist, I often get the question, “Am I allowed to come to physical therapy without a referral or prescription from a doctor?” The answer is a resounding: “YES!” As of 2015, all 50 states allow some form of direct access. Direct access refers to a law that was passed in New York State in 2006 that allows patients to “access” physical therapy as a direct route of treatment rather than seeing a physician first (1). In New York State, you may be treated by a physical therapist with at least three years of experience for up to 30 days or 10 visits (or whichever comes first) without a referral.
Why Should We Care as Physical Therapists?
Direct access was a huge “WIN” for physical therapists. After going to school for at least six years, physical therapists receive a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Our extensive education on anatomy, physiology, body mechanics, and human movement make us experts in treating musculoskeletal and neuromuscular injuries. Direct access gives us the autonomy and the responsibility to make decisions regarding your care. This law suggests that we are able to proficiently and accurately assess whether your injury is musculoskeletal in nature, warranting physical therapy treatment, or if your condition requires further evaluation from a medical doctor.
Why Should You Care as a Patient?
Seeing a physical therapist via direct access provides you with a host of benefits. Direct access allows you to have complete control over your own health care. Firstly, choosing who your physical therapist is and when you should see them is up to you. Secondly, you can expedite treatment by calling your physical therapist first. At Buffalo Rehab Group, we have a 48 hour rule meaning we will get you in for an evaluation and on your way to starting to feel better within 48 hours. The benefits don’t stop there. Direct access allows health care professionals to make stronger connections and communicate effectively for the best patient outcomes.
Not only does this save time, this is also a way to save money on copays or high deductible plans. Research has indicated that patients with low back pain who sought physical therapy within fourteen days of injury save 60% in medical costs (3). This study also showed that seeing a physical therapist within two weeks led to decreased number of opioid prescriptions, decreased number of spinal injections, AND reduced number of surgeries!
Some conditions may require additional medical care. For those cases, your physical therapist is well equipped to direct your care and will refer you to the clinician you need. Unfortunately, not all insurances (such as No Fault, Workman’s Compensation, and Medicare) are on board yet and may require a referral from a doctor. Thanks to direct access, next time you suffer an injury, feel pain with movement, or have difficulty doing the things you love to do, think “I should call my Physical Therapist.”
1. “Direct Access Laws by State.” Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
2. “NYS Physical Therapy: Frequently Asked Questions. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
3. Implications of early and guideline adherent physical therapy for low back pain on utilization and costs BMC Health Services Research, 2015, Volume 15, Number 1, Page 1. John D Childs, Julie M Fritz, Samuel S Wu, Timothy W Flynn, Robert S Wainner, Eric K Robertson, Forest S Kim, Steven Z George