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Direct access to physical therapists associated with lower costs and fewer visits, new study says
Date:10/13/2011

A new study suggesting that "the role of the physician gatekeeper in regard to physical therapy may be unnecessary in many cases" could have significant implications for the US health care system, says the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

The study, published ahead of print September 23 in the journal Health Services Research (HSR), reviewed 62,707 episodes of physical therapy using non-Medicare claims data from a Midwest insurer over a 5-year period. Patients who visited a physical therapist directly for outpatient care (27%) had fewer visits and lower overall costs on average than those who were referred by a physician, while maintaining continuity of care within the overall medical system and showing no difference in health care use in the 60 days after the physical therapy episode.

The study is noteworthy because services delivered by physical therapists account for "a significant portion" of outpatient care costs in the United States, according to the study, and some health insurance plans require a physician referral for reimbursement of these services. In addition, although 46 states and the District of Columbia now allow some form of direct access to physical therapists, some of them nonetheless impose restrictions if patients have not been referred by a physician.

"Physical therapists have long known that direct access to our services is safe and effective," said APTA President R. Scott Ward, PT, PhD. "The elimination of referral requirements and other restrictions has been a priority of APTA for decades. This study provides further evidence that direct access to physical therapists could go a long way toward helping to make health care more affordable and accessible for all. We encourage researchers and insurers to continue to further investigate this important issue that could have a profound impact on patient care."

"When patients choose direct access to a physical therapist, it does not mean the end
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Contact: Erin Wendel
erinwendel@apta.org
703-706-3397
American Physical Therapy Association
Source:Eurekalert

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