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

s of this type of care might include physician services or diagnostic testing. Potential differences in functional status and outcomes of care were not addressed.

"Health care use did not increase in the self-referred group, nor was continuity of care hindered," the researchers write. "The self-referred patients were still in contact with physicians during and after physical therapy. Concerns about patient safety, missed diagnoses, and continuity of care for individuals who self-refer may be overstated."

According to Rick Gawenda, PT, president of APTA's Section on Health Policy and Administration, the study should cause insurers and policymakers to rethink the physician gatekeeper concept when it comes to physical therapist services. "Evidence shows that, in the case of physical therapy, the physician gatekeeper model is doing exactly the opposite of what it was originally designed to do; it does not reduce ineffective and duplicate care nor reduce health care costs," says Gawenda. "It's time to end the physician referral requirement in every state, and it's time for all payers to embrace direct access to physical therapists."

Earlier research has supported direct access to physical therapists, but the new HSR study is the most comprehensive to date. A 1994 study analyzed 4 years of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maryland claims data and found that total paid claims for physician referral episodes to physical therapists were 2.2 times higher than the paid claims for direct access episodes. In addition, physician referral episodes were 65% longer in duration than direct access episodes and generated 67% more physical therapy claims and 60% more office visits. The HSR study looked at a far more extensive number of episodes than the previous study, and also controlled for illness severity and other factors that could have affected the patients' outcomes.

"In summary," the researchers write, "our findings do not support the assertion t
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Contact: Erin Wendel
erinwendel@apta.org
703-706-3397
American Physical Therapy Association
Source:Eurekalert

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