What is “Direct Access” and How It Can Benefit You

Dec 29, 2021

In some states, patients are required to get a referral, or referrals are required from a medical doctor in order to see a physical therapist. Fortunately, Arizona is one of 20 states that allow unrestricted direct access to physical therapists. In popular culture, the word “access” implies exclusivity—like a backstage pass to a rock concert or high-level clearance to government files. When it comes to direct access to physical therapy, however, the opposite is true. Direct access allows a patient to go to a physical therapist to receive an evaluation and treatment without a physician’s prescription or referral. That’s right; direct access essentially cuts out the middleman—no backstage passes, security authorizations, or physician prescriptions necessary.

Direct access means that if patients feel that they have an issue that may benefit from physical therapy, they may contact a PT office and make an appointment without a referral. If a patient wants insurance to help pay for their care, they should check with their insurance company to see if there are certain clinics that are covered.  

Having direct access is advantageous to patients in a variety of ways, and if a PT is unable to help, the patient will be referred to the right healthcare professional.

Benefits of Direct Access 

There are various reasons why it is beneficial for patients to have direct access to physical therapists: 

More control: If an individual has an injury, is experiencing pain, or has a musculoskeletal complaint, he or she should be able to decide how and where to seek care. There are certain conditions in which it is fairly obvious that physical therapy would be helpful. Direct access gives patients more control to make their own treatment choices. The physical therapist is recognized as a licensed professional of choice to manage musculoskeletal and movement disorders in patients.

Less costly: Being able to go directly to physical therapy is cost-effective. A patient avoids having to pay for a visit to a doctor for a referral, and the doctor may order costly diagnostic tests before determining that physical therapy is the right treatment method. 

Less time consuming: The patient can schedule a visit to a PT right away instead of waiting for an appointment with the doctor and then scheduling a PT appointment. Can easily become a part of a patient’s routine for injury prevention, fitness, and overall health.

Quicker results: A physician may want to try other treatments first, such as medication, before referring to a physical therapist. Direct access allows the patient to get the care he or she needs right away, which means more rapid results. 

Coordinated care: Even if a patient is seeing a medical doctor for a particular condition, the patient might understand that getting PT along with medical treatments will help with the recovery process. When a patient contacts a physical therapist, he or she can work directly with the other healthcare providers to provide the most effective treatment for the patient.

PT doing evaluation on patient

Education and Training for Physical Therapists 

One of the reasons that direct access is allowed is because physical therapists are qualified to be primary healthcare professionals. The American Physical Therapy Association discusses that PTs receive extensive education, as they are required to complete a bachelor’s program before earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, which is the highest-level degree. 

The DPT curriculum is based on sciences, and common courses include anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, neuroscience, pathology, histology, kinesiology, and pharmacology. Other classes may include clinical reasoning, communication, patient management, behavioral science, and ethics.  

Along with academic courses, PT students spend many hours in clinical settings, working with real patients. Physical therapists must also take a minimum amount of continuing education credits every year to keep up to date with changes and to maintain their licenses. Their extensive education and training provide PTs with the ability to diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions, which makes them prime candidates for direct access to healthcare.  

PT performing exercises on client knee

How Physical Therapists Diagnose Patients 

To determine if physical therapy is the right treatment method for incoming patients, PTs conduct a thorough initial exam. Physical therapists use the disablement model to diagnose patients. This model, which is recognized by the World Health Organization uses objective measures as well as patient experiences. A physical therapist examines how the condition affects the patient’s body structures and functions, participation, and activity. Personal and environmental factors also play a role in the diagnosis.  

Physical therapists are skilled in treating movement and musculoskeletal disorders. If a patient presents with more serious symptoms and ones that PT may not be the answer for, a physical therapist has the training and knowledge to refer the patient to the right medical professional.  

The goals of PT are to restore function. This is done by improving movement, reducing symptoms, and addressing underlying impairments. With direct access, patients have better chances of benefitting from this type of treatment and therapy.   

Don’t let your health benefits go unused. 

In January, most health plans reset, allowing individuals to continue preventive or elective medical treatment. With your Full Recovery Focus in mind come to Foothills to get a hands-on, individualized approach to your evaluation and treatment. With your specific needs in mind, we can restore movement, improve function, and get you pain-free and feeling better than ever so you can start enjoying life again. Most think of physical therapy as a post-surgery requirement, but in reality, Foothills physical therapists are experts in restoring movement and function without surgical intervention!
If you’ve recently been injured or are suffering from a nagging ache or pain that won’t go away, contact us today so you can meet one-on-one with one of our physical therapists.

To schedule your personalized physical therapy appointment in the Phoenix area, find a location nearest you.

Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy

by Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy

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