There are a lot of misconceptions about physical therapy. One of the biggest is that it’s only for people who have been seriously injured, left disabled, or are recovering from major surgery.

The truth is, there are many instances where an individual might encounter a minor physical problem, such as a wear-and-tear sports injury, that could benefit from physical therapy. Or they might find themselves dealing with a chronic condition that needs periodic physical therapy treatment. Or maybe they’re interested in preventive physical therapy, which is used not to treat current issues but to protect against potential future problems.

Whatever the case, there are many situations when a person might need or want the help of a professional physical therapist but may not wish to go through the trouble of scheduling an appointment with a doctor, who would then (re)evaluate the patient’s condition and subsequently write out a prescription for physical therapy. 

Although there are many times when a patient should first visit their physician for a medical issue, for some, it is a costly extra step that does not necessarily have a significant impact on their health status.

Today, direct access physical therapy is available in nearly all 50 American states (though provisions and limitations vary among jurisdictions).

What is Direct Access Physical Therapy?

As the name implies, direct access physical therapy allows patients to directly access a licensed physical therapist, essentially bypassing the initial visit with a doctor to obtain a referral.

Direct access physical therapy allows patients to avoid spending time and money on unnecessary doctor visits. By going directly to a physical therapy pain specialist, as in the case of a minor injury, patients can more quickly receive the healing they need, allowing them to get back doing the things they love and enjoy as soon as possible. In the case of chronic health issues, patients can receive the treatment they require in a more timely manner, allowing them to reduce their pain and maximize their abilities in a shorter period of time.

Of course, just because a patient might want to directly see a physical therapist doesn’t mean their primary care physician is completely outside of the communication loop.  A physical therapist who participates in the direct access program can notify a patient’s primary care physician that they are being seen by a physical therapist. This helps keep the lines of communication open in circumstances where the physical therapist or the physician feels the patient requires further medical treatment.

How Much State Oversight is There?

In order to ensure that patients are receiving the highest quality medical care, the states offering direct access programs have set up certain conditions that a PT must adhere to in order to offer a direct access program to their patients.  In Pennsylvania, these conditions include:

  • a physical therapist must be licensed in PA by the board of physical therapy to treat patients without a physician’s referral
  • the physical therapist must publicly display their direct access certificate
  • the physical therapist must renew their direct access certificate whenever they renew their therapy license
  • the physical therapist certificate holder may not treat a patient for any non-neurologic, non-muscular, or non-skeletal condition
  • the physical therapist may not treat a patient who has an acute cardiac or acute pulmonary condition
  • a direct access physical therapist can treat a patient a maximum of 30 days from the date of the first treatment
  • a direct access physical therapist cannot exceed 30 days of treatment without acquiring a physician’s referral for the patient (although there is current state legislation in the works to increase that number from 30 days to 90)

Can Anyone Self-Refer?

While the purpose of direct access physical therapy is to make physical therapy more widely and conveniently available to those who need it, there are still restrictions for who can self-refer.  

For instance, as with any other form of medical care, it’s essential for patients to research what their health insurance plan covers in regard to the different types of physical therapy treatment.  Here at Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab we do all the insurance verification leg work for you!  Some insurance providers will cover treatments provided through a direct access physical therapy program, whereas others will not.  If you aren’t sure whether your insurance will cover direct access to physical treatments, check with your insurance provider and the physical therapist you would like to see.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that if a person is seeking physical therapy due to a worker’s compensation or automobile injury, that does require a doctor’s referral.

Direct Access Physical Therapy is Available in Pennsylvania

Direct access physical therapy has been approved in nearly all 50 states, with Pennsylvania being no exception. Cawley Physical Therapy specialists provide a range of therapy options to meet your needs, from preventative therapy to post-operative rehab and more. Whether you’re looking to maintain your physical health or improve it, we can help.

If you would like to know whether your specific insurance covers these types of physical therapy treatments, you can contact your insurance provider or contact us at 570-208-2787 or email us at cawleyptfrank@gmail.com. Click here if you would like more information about Pennsylvania’s state laws that govern direct access to PT treatment.

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