Direct Access for Physical Therapy: What It Means to You and What It Means to Me

Lynn Batalden, physical therapist, physical therapy, dekalb, IL

Lynn Batalden, DPT, OCS

On Thursday August 16, 2018, Governor Rauner signed a bill for direct access for Physical Therapy that will now allow patients to decide to see a physical therapist without a seeing a physician first. Our profession has been working to obtain this ability for a long time. In order to do this, we have changed the requirements for our degree from a Bachelor’s degree to a Doctor of Physical Therapy.  This degree requires more knowledge of research and more knowledge in differential diagnosis, or the ability to differentiate a more serious medical problem. Additionally, the field continues to grow in research and understanding of musculoskeletal and neurologic issues that affect movement. We have done our homework and have earned the right to evaluate patients and set up a correct course of care, including when a patient should be seeing the doctor in addition to PT or instead of PT.  Illinois has been one of the last states to pass this law.  We as a clinic are in full celebration mode!

For patients, this means more timely access to care for addressing areas of pain, which has potential to impact the opioid crisis.  If a person is experiencing pain, they can come right to a PT to more quickly address the issue before it becomes chronic.  An athlete can address athletic injuries more quickly leading to less down time. The relationship between the physical therapist and the public is accessible and more people can experience the knowledge base that a physical therapist has. There is also potentially a cost savings to the patient as they will not have to see their doctor first.

Direct access allows for the PT to act as practitioner to consult with you about your musculoskeletal health across the lifespan. Take for example a person with scoliosis. This condition unless severe can be managed well with exercise but the individual tends to need a lot of feedback about the best way to exercise and how to reach muscles and joints that tend to be neglected because of the curve. The instructions are complex and can take time for a person to appreciate. This is best accomplished through an on-going relationship with the physical therapist over time. I like to see this type of patient every few years for a 4-6 week episode.   Currently the way things are done is to wait for the person to have pain or loss of balance and then refer them for a short period of time. Many people instinctively want to be more proactive about their health. With this law, a person can actively seek out care and the physical therapist and the patient can deem what is necessary based on the therapist’s expertise.

This law also makes it easier for physical therapists to be involved in wellness.  People typically go to personal trainers to enhance their fitness or performance.  Now physical therapists can take their well-earned place in this role as well. Training and form errors lead to injury.  Physical therapists know how to set up well balanced performance programs and how to spot errors before they lead to problems.

Physical therapists are specialists in rehabilitation from injury or surgery, in the best type of exercise for all levels of health and ability, in joint function, and in optimal movement.  We are ready and able to be the first point of contact to direct patients to the best form of treatment.

Please call our office at 815-758-5508 with any questions about your Direct Access options. (Some insurance plans may still require a referral for physical therapy).

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