If you or a loved one needs to visit a physical therapist, you will want to know about Direct Access.
Direct Access allows individuals to be treated by a physical therapist without having to see their doctor first to obtain a prescription, saving both time and money.
A study in the journal Health Services Research reports, “Patients who visited a physical therapist directly for outpatient care had fewer visits and lower overall costs on average than those who were referred by a physician.” Physical therapists are highly educated with extensive clinical training in evaluating and treating individuals with functional issues related to illness or injury. They are able to identify if a patient does need to see a physician and will refer them to their doctor if necessary.
Vice President for Ambulatory Care at Bacharach, Joyce Glick, PT, MHS, said, “Because of direct access patients no longer have barriers to seeing a physical therapist. If they wake up one morning and their knee feels sore or their back is tight, they can schedule an appointment with a physical therapist immediately and get started on a rehabilitation program right away. The physical therapist can provide a full screening and if there are signs of other medical complications or further tests recommended, the therapist will make arrangements to have them seen by their primary care doctor or specialist.”
Direct Access is available in every state without the need for a physician prescription; however regulations, guidelines and requirements may differ from state to state. In New Jersey, if a patient is not seeing improvement after 30 days of treatment they will be referred to another healthcare provider.
Of course, consumers should be familiar with their insurance plans as direct access requirements may vary. Sometimes a phone call to the insurance provider may be necessary or the patient may need a referral for the initial evaluation. Medicare patients need to have their physical therapist obtain approval from the primary care doctor for their proposed plan of care.
By allowing patients to schedule a physical therapy appointment without a prescription, direct access eliminates unnecessary obstacles and ensures a timely visit to a health care professional. Joyce explained, “Patients who get early intervention have been shown to have fewer lost days of work, lower costs and higher satisfaction than those that wait for treatment.”
As direct access continues to expand, more and more patients will be able to easily obtain the treatment they need in a timely and cost-effective manner.