Direct access is a hot-topic for many physical therapists today. Direct access allows a physical therapist to directly see a patient without a doctor’s referral or for patients to refer themselves, which many say empowers therapists to give better care and cuts back on medical bills for both patients and the health system.
Proof That Direct Access Works
The APTA and its state chapters have fought hard and long to pass legislation for direct access. When Michigan passed legislation in July 2014, direct access for some forms of physical therapy treatment became available in all 50 states and the DC for the first time. However Australia has had laws regarding direct access for therapists since 1976. According to this article in Physical Therapy about global perspectives on direct access, Australia made the transition to direct access, not only so therapists could immediately address the issues at hand, but also to save the health system and patients a significant amount of money, as it could avoid unnecessary physician visits and expensive diagnostic tests.
Because of its use of direct access for 40 years, Australia shows a strong case for direct access as evidence has shown it has accomplished exactly what it has set out to do. According to the study in Physical Therapy, not only has direct access resulted in better patient care and reduced health costs, it also has not put patients at risk.
Direct Access in the States
In the U.S., each state has their own legislation regarding direct access. Some states have provisions for when a physical therapist may see a patient without a physician, including:
- How many times a physical therapist may see a patient before a referral
- Athletic reasons or specific injuries
- Certain settings, like long term care facilities.
Some states are mostly restricted; a few states have completely unrestricted direct access. If you are wondering where your state falls in this lineup, the American Physical Therapy Association offers a breakdown of the legislation for all 50 states.
Wisconsin Physical Therapist of the Year Uses Direct Access
Wisconsin has had success with direct access. Just this past April, the Wisconsin Physical Therapy Association named Andy Kerk the 2014 Physical Therapist of the Year. Kerk is the founder of Body Mechanics Physical Therapy in Milwaukee, where they accept and see patients via direct access, as Wisconsin allows direct access in several scenarios.
Body Mechanic went from only having 10 percent of its patients pay directly, to 50 percent paying directly, without having to go through the insurance provider. Because of how much simpler this system is, Kerk states in the press release to WisBusiness.com, “This payment method not only saves patients money, but also we find it leads to improved continuity of care and more positive outcomes.” Kerk in many ways seems to attribute his receiving of Physical Therapist of the Year to direct access.
The Future of Direct Access
As patients and therapists experience success with Direct Access, going to see a physical therapist may become as easy as going to the chiropractor. Consumers will embrace Direct Access as a popular way to save money and efficiently access physical therapy care. As Andy Kerk’s story illustrates, combining direct access legislation and a great reputation in the community creates a winning combination for private practice physical therapists.
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