PT First: You can see a physical therapist without a doctor referral
Physical therapists are experts in movement, trained to eliminate pain through non-invasive, evidenced-based clinical approaches. For the growing number of Americans suffering from situational or chronic pain, the fastest road to recovery may be to see a physical therapist directly. All states offer some degree of direct access, meaning you don’t need a referral from your doctor to make an appointment. [read more]
Having direct access to a physical therapist is a game changer for many patients. It’s a trend that first began in 1957 but really caught fire around the late nineties. The level of direct access depends on state law, but it generally allows patients a greater degree of control in addressing injury recovery or pain. This streamlined experience is truly a progressive approach to health care. It can cut out wait time, unnecessary testing and long-term pain medication.
When a physical therapist sees any patient, he or she begins by performing a methodical one-on-one clinical evaluation. We listen carefully to our patient’s description of symptoms. We observe and measure their mobility and record their neuromuscular function. We diagnose the site of the pain as well as its underlying source.
Once we complete an evaluation of patients who come to us without a referral, one of three things will occur.
- Treatment begins immediately. We determine that physical therapy will achieve the desired results, and we proceed right away with a tailored treatment plan. The patient is instantly on the road to recovery without having to wait for further x-rays or MRIs.
- We refer the patient to a physician. If, after our clinical assessment, we determine the patient’s issue is not related to neuromuscular or musculoskeletal function, we recommend the patient see a doctor.
- We treat and refer. In some cases, we treat the patient using physical therapy techniques, and we also recommend they see their doctor to address an ancillary issue that is also present.
Physicians and hospitals will continue to be an important partner to physical therapists, but many patients can achieve their therapy and pain management goals far faster and cheaper by taking advantage of direct access and seeing their physical therapist first for aches, pains, injuries and other neuromuscular and musculoskeletal dysfunctions.
Dr. Chris Wilson, PT, DPT, CHES
Director, Physical Therapy
HPRC, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina