Think You Have to See Your Doctor to Get Physical Therapy? Think Again – We Explain Direct Access & How it Benefits You

Did you know that you don’t have to wait to see a physical therapist? Many people mistakenly believe that they first have to see a doctor, i.e., a family practitioner or orthopedic specialist, before visiting a physical therapist. In fact, thanks to direct access, you’re able to find a qualified physical therapist and make an appointment yourself, the same way that you would at your doctor’s office. You may even save yourself time and money in doing so. How does direct-access or “self-referring” work and is it more effective than the traditional exam/referral process? The American Physical Therapy Association compiled data on patients who saw a physical therapist first, and we share how it may benefit you, too.

How Direct Access Works: Direct access is exactly what it sounds like. Sometimes also referred to as “self-referral,” this means you find a physical therapist and make an appointment. As with any medical provider, you should check network coverage with your insurance. The physical therapist’s office will work with your doctor and insurance company, should a referral or future visit authorizations be necessary.

APTA Data Shows:

  • The study APTA quotes reviewed close to 68,000 episodes of physical therapy using non-Medicare claims data from an insurer in the Midwest over a five-year period.
  • Notably, the study found that patients who visited a physical therapist directly for their outpatient care had fewer visits and lower overall costs (on average) than those referred by physicians. They also showed no difference in health care use in the 60-day post-physical therapy time period.
  • The study showed that direct-access patients had fewer physical therapy visits, as well as lower allowable amounts during the episode of care. (The study adjusted for age, gender, illness, etc.)
  • The study found that both physician-referred and self-referred patients were “similarly engaged” in the health care system during their medical care and after.
  • In the direct-access group, health care use didn’t increase, and their continuity of care wasn’t impeded.
  • Researchers determined that placing physicians as the “gatekeeper” to physical therapy access may be “unnecessary in many cases.”
  • The self-referred patients were still in contact with physicians during and after physical therapy treatment.

The bottom line is that your physical therapist likely is a doctor as well, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Health Science, or other musculoskeletal specialty. S/he may also likely be board-certified in orthopedic physical therapy or other related certifications. Your physical therapist is highly educated, trained, and qualified to examine and assess your injury and/or complaints of the musculoskeletal system. Should you require further testing, such as imaging, your physical therapist will be able to recommend that treatment as well. S/he will assess your injury and design a custom treatment plan to address mobility, strength, current limitations, and more, while working with your goals and lifestyle to help achieve the best outcome. When you’re injured or in pain, thanks to direct-access, you can skip your doctor’s waiting room and head straight to physical therapy.

If you’re ready to improve your mobility, range-of-motion, address old injuries, heal new injuries, or more, call Body One Physical Therapy. We’re locally-owned with four locations serving Central Indiana: North Indianapolis, South Indianapolis, Fishers, and Zionsville. Our team of dedicated, caring providers is ready to help get you back to living the life you want. Call us today for your direct-access visit!

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