Direct Access

Updated: Jan 2, 2020

Did you know you can go straight to a physical therapist without having to see a doctor first? Patients are able to seek medical help from a physical therapist and not see a doctor prior because of direct access.

What is direct access? Direct access refers to patients having the ability to refer themselves to physical therapy without the need of a referral from a doctor or other healthcare practitioner. This allows patients to be able to seek physical therapy to treat a musculoskeletal or movement disorder without having to see another healthcare practitioner first. Many patients will first seek their doctor to address their injuries/conditions which run up healthcare costs due to various testing and imaging practices, just to be sent to physical therapy.

Although physical therapists lack the ability to prescribe medicine or order diagnostic tests, physical therapists are trained to treat various conditions and recognize “red flags”. “Red flags” are patient characteristics that are revealed during an initial evaluation that may cause the treating therapist to refer the patient seek further consultation with another healthcare specialist. Physical therapists have the professional skills to evaluate and treat patients that walk through their door using direct access and can deem them appropriate or not appropriate for PT.

Direct access is still a relatively new concept and Pennsylvania is one of twenty-six states that allow it. The state of Pennsylvania requires licensed physical therapists to obtain a certification to practice without a physician referral. With this certification, PTs can treat patients that have neurologic and musculoskeletal conditions. Patients that have any non-neurological or non-musculoskeletal conditions, as well as acute cardiac or pulmonary conditions, then they are not appropriate for direct access physical therapy treatment at that time.

Direct access in PA allows patients to receive up to thirty days of physical therapy from their initial evaluation date. Further treatment after the thirty-day mark will require obtaining a referral from the appropriate healthcare provider.

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