Direct Access to Physical Therapy

By: Dr. Laura Wenger, PT, DPT, OCS

A couple of months ago, a patient called to see if she could get her daughter in for an evaluation on short notice. Her daughter had twisted her knee on the stairs and she had swelling and knee pain that was concerning. This particular family has had experience with PT in the past for multiple acute and chronic musculoskeletal problems, so they have seen firsthand how PTs are helpful in assessing and treating bodies from head to toe, so they thought that it would be best to come straight in for an assessment to see what they should do. Luckily, we were able to get the patient in that day with a PT that she was familiar with for a timely assessment. After a thorough evaluation, the PT concluded that the patient likely had a mild sprain of her knee and with some easy exercises and RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) over the next couple of days, the patient would return back to normal function in her knee.

This is a great example of what is commonly referred to as “primary care physical therapy”, which is becoming more and more popular across the nation. In the past, patients have gone to their primary care physician for musculoskeletal injuries and, after a thorough assessment from their trusty doctors, they have usually been referred to PT to further assess and treat the problem. In more serious conditions, the patient gets referred to an orthopedic physician specialist if it seems pretty clear that the patient has a fracture or will require surgery due to a more significant nature of the injury, though this is a more rare situation. Historically, this has resulted in a lag time for initiating treatment, which can potentially lead to slower healing times along with more swelling, stiffness, and pain.

Nowadays, most* insurance companies do not require a physician referral to see a physical therapist, so the situation detailed in the example above is becoming more and more prominent. As the training of physical therapists has elevated to the doctorate level, PTs are specifically trained to assess patients as a direct access provider with the knowledge and skills to be able to treat and/or refer to a physician as needed based on each individual’s situation and injury. The best part is, regardless of the body part (or parts) injured, you can count on the PT for an honest, informed opinion on the best treatment plan to get you back to moving and feeling normally without having to spend a couple of days waiting for the process of multiple appointments and referrals to be completed. The faster you can get in to be assessed for a musculoskeletal injury, the more likely you are to begin to recover quickly versus waiting days (or, sometimes months) to get a professional evaluation performed. The next time you or a family member experiences pain or injury, make sure to call our office and we will get you in quickly to see one of our specialized physical therapists to get you back on the road to recovery as soon as possible!

Working hard to make folks feel and move better

*Please call our office to verify your insurance to see whether or not your policy requires a physician referral to PT