As of January 1, 2015, all 50 states allow patients to seek some level of treatment from a licensed physical therapist without a prescription or referral from a physician. Direct access to physical therapy is your opportunity to be evaluated and treated by a licensed physical therapist. If payment is approved by your insurance company, direct access is your opportunity to expedite your treatment, relief, and recovery as well as save time and money.

What does patient access to physical therapist’s services without referral mean and why is it needed?
According to theAmerican Physical Therapy Association, patient access to physical therapist’s services without referral means the removal of the physician referral mandated by state law to access physical therapist’s services.

The referral mandate caused delays in the provision of physical therapy services to individuals who would benefit from treatment by a physical therapist. Delays in care resulted in higher cost, decreased functional outcomes, and frustration to patients seeking treatment. Eliminating the referral mandate results in timely, and thus more effective, physical therapy services.

Are physical therapists qualified to deliver physical therapists’ services independent of referral?
Absolutely. Physical therapists are educated at the post-baccalaureate level and receive extensive education and clinical training in the examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, and intervention of patient/clients with functional limitations, impairments and disabilities. Beginning January 1, 2002 all physical therapy programs were required to be accredited at the masters level. Physical therapists are qualified to recognize when a patient presents with signs and symptoms inconsistent or outside the scope and expertise of the physical therapist and when the patient should be referred to a physician. APTA’s Guide of Professional Conduct advocates that physical therapists should assist patients in receiving appropriate medical care when the physical therapist’s examination and evaluation reveals signs and symptoms inconsistent with a condition that can be appropriately treated with physical therapy or needs a physician’s care and expertise.

Liability insurers and the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy affirm that physical therapists’ services provided without referral does not jeopardize the health, safety, or welfare of the patient/clients seeking physical therapists’ care and services without referral. Health Providers Service Organization (HPSO), the leading liability insurer of physical therapists in the United States, states in a March 22, 2001 letter, “that direct access is not a risk factor that we specifically screen for in our program because it has not negatively impacted our claims experience in any way. In addition, we do not have a premium differential for physical therapists in direct access states.”