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

Jan 17, 2023

In some states, patients are required to get a referral, or referrals are required from a medical doctor to see a physical therapist. Fortunately, Arizona is one of 20 states that allow unrestricted direct access to physical therapists. In popular culture, “access” implies exclusivity—like a backstage pass to a rock concert or high-level clearance to government files. However, the opposite is true regarding direct access to physical therapy. Direct access allows a patient to go to a physical therapist to receive an evaluation and treatment without a physician’s prescription or referral.

Direct access means that if patients feel they have an issue that may benefit from physical therapy, they may contact a PT office and make an appointment without a referral. Patients who want insurance to help pay for their care should check with their insurance company to see if care is covered (for Insurance coverage, specific requirements from your insurance may not allow Direct Access referral. Some insurances require a physician referral for coverage; we can help with the guidelines).

Having direct access is advantageous to patients in various ways, and if a PT cannot 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 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. It 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, such as medication, before referring to a physical therapist. Direct access allows the patient to get the care he or she needs immediately, which means more rapid results. 

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

Chris Adam performing hip scour test

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 must 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 of continuing education credits every year to keep up to date with changes and maintain their licenses. Their extensive education and training give PTs the ability to diagnose and treat various conditions, making them prime candidates for direct access to healthcare.    

PT, treating clients shoulder pain.

How Physical Therapists Diagnose Patients 

PTs conduct a thorough initial exam to determine if physical therapy is the right treatment method for incoming patients. Physical therapists use the disablement model to diagnose patients. This model, which the World Health Organization recognizes, uses objective measures and patient experiences. A physical therapist examines how the condition affects the patient’s body structures, 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 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 for 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.

Find a location nearest you to schedule your personalized physical therapy appointment in the Phoenix area.

Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy

by Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy

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