Direct Access refers to the ability of patients to seek attention from a medical specialist like a physical therapist without needing a referral from their primary care physician.
On May 5, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 505 allowing Georgians direct access to a physical therapist beginning July 1, 2015. The topic of direct access in physical therapy has been a point of discussion in the medical field for years; and currently over 43 other states have allowed direct access to physical therapy with no negative consequences. Thankfully, Georgia has embraced the concept of direct access to allow consumers more independence in their healthcare choices.
But first, what is the role of a physical therapist in healthcare? Physical Therapists (PTs) diagnose, treat and manage movement dysfunctions, and enhance the functional abilities of individuals of all ages. Given the formal education and clinical training they undergo, PTs are well qualified to evaluate a patient’s condition, determine an appropriate treatment plan, and safely execute this plan. Additionally, PTs are able to identify when physical therapy is not appropriate for an individual and refer the patient to another healthcare professional.
Because of the long-standing healthcare structure where physicians are most frequently the first point of contact, it may be difficult for some to think about seeing a PT first. However, physical therapy education now includes a doctoral degree, training in differential diagnosis (discerning one disease from another disease with similar symptoms), and all PTs must pass a state-licensing exam. In fact, many PTs choose to specialize in areas such as orthopedics, neurology, women’s health, etc. John D. Barnes, the CEO of the American Physical Therapy Association until 2013, stated, “Physical therapy is not a subspecialty of the medical profession and physical therapists are not medical doctors; we are a separate profession that provides a unique service…” Several high quality clinical studies have concluded that access to physical therapy care decreases patients’ level of risk because patients are less likely to need more invasive, higher-risk treatments.
Direct access to physical therapists gives you, the consumer, options. Direct access has extended the patient’s choice of health care providers and improved access to services that support wellness. Now, you can decide where you would like to start your journey to a pain-free lifestyle and bring freedom of movement back into your life.
If you are looking to start this journey with a PT, find a PT Solutions Physical Therapy clinic near you to schedule an appointment with one of our expert therapists.
About the PT
Elizabeth Eldridge graduated from Presbyterian College before earning her doctorate in Physical Therapy from Emory University School of Medicine. She is currently a Resident in PT Solutions Orthopaedic Residency Program.