By Andy Taber, PT, DPT
As I have grown in my career as a physical therapist, I have been lucky enough to practice in a time of reform. Direct Access has allowed for greater autonomy for both patients and therapists alike in the state of Wisconsin. With that being said, it still surprises me how many patients are not aware of the choices they have when seeking medical care, and in particular, physical therapy! As an advocate for my profession, I always try to be proactive in educating and informing patients of their rights when seeking medical treatment.
Under current Wisconsin law, Direct Access allows physical therapists to evaluate and treat patients without a referral from a doctor.
Historically, one of the main barriers between injured patients and proper PT services was the necessity of a doctor’s referral prior to any appointments. This extra step often prevents patients from seeking treatment from a qualified physical therapist. Indeed, each year, over 100 million Americans suffer from wellness and mobility impairments, and yet only 10% actually make their way to a physical therapy clinic. With the implementation of Direct Access, however, the process is streamlining. By placing the power directly into the hands of consumers and clinicians, direct access provides a new avenue through which a patient can receive evaluation and treatment for a host of injuries or conditions.
Put simply, Direct Access grants the patient the ability to “refer themselves” to their desired physical therapist, who may then provide evaluation and treatment without the sign-off of a physician. This may seem like a small deviation from the standard medical referral model, but in actuality, it could potentially have a profound effect on eliminating much of the bureaucratic red tape that the previous referral system was built upon. Some key benefits of this reform are as follows:
1. Direct Access eliminates the burden of extraneous visits to physicians. The referral requirement can cause delays and denials of services provided by physical therapists. These delays in care result in higher costs, decreased functional outcomes, and frustration to patients!
2. It promotes more efficient treatment by eliminating sometimes unnecessary and frequently expensive diagnostic testing, like MRI’s and X-Ray’s.
3. Direct Access can lead to both a better treatment experience and outcome for the client. Patients who visited a physical therapist directly for outpatient care had fewer visits (27%) and lower overall costs on average than those who were referred by a physician while maintaining continuity of care within the overall medical system and showing no difference in health care use in the 60 days after the physical therapy episode.
Direct Access also allows for patients to be treated sooner rather than later. Sometimes, injuries are not addressed until weeks, or even months, after originating. This may be due to patients having a difficult time getting in to see a specialist or reluctance in seeking treatment due to uncertainty on which doctor to see. Have you ever tried to “ride out” pain because you didn’t want to spend the time or money on doctor’s visits, specialists, procedures and medications? There is a better way to manage and treat your pain! In Wisconsin, the Direct Access law allows most people with most insurances to see a physical therapist without a prescription or referral from a doctor.
Physical Therapists are experts on the musculoskeletal system, including:
• Pain from muscle injuries
• Joint pain like arthritis
• Nagging back or neck pain
• Sports injuries
• Recovery from broken bones or fractures
• Post-operative rehabilitation
• Vertigo and other balance issues
• A host of other pain resulting muscle, bone and joint problems.
Physical therapists are also trained to ask the right questions, explore all possible causes, offer a clinical diagnosis and let you know if a customized PT plan is right for you - or if you should seek additional insight from a doctor or specialist. Now, most patients can see a physical therapist the same day of an injury, if desired! Treating injuries sooner will not only help speed up the healing process, but it may also decrease the financial burden of medical diagnoses that linger for longer periods of time. Research has shown that early physical therapy treatment decreases overall medical expenses in the long run, for a particular diagnosis!
If you are currently suffering from a recent injury or a nagging issue that’s been around for several weeks or months, feel free to stop by and speak with one of our therapists at Advanced Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine to determine how we can help you on your road to recovery!
Please visit our website at www.advancedptsm.com