By Liz Yerly, PT, MPT, ATC, LMT, CSCS
On August 16th, 2018 legislation was passed which resulted in Illinois becoming the 45th state to allow direct access for physical therapy services. This means that anyone can now see a licensed physical therapist without a referral or prescription from a physician. This is good news for physical therapists, and hopefully will lead to a change in the way the consumer seeks and utilizes services from PT providers.
One change that comes along with direct access is the idea that physical therapists can now truly treat the whole body. Often times therapists were limited in their treatment based on what was written on the referral or the prescription from the physician. Physical therapists may have been limited to only treating one area or injury at a time or felt constrained to focus their manual interventions on a specific body part or region knowing that treating the whole body would be more beneficial. With direct access, a therapist can now take a patient’s entire history into account and formulate a plan to treat the whole person without restriction.
Along with treating the whole person comes the idea of physical therapists establishing themselves as primary care providers for musculoskeletal health. With direct access to physical therapists, the consumer can now opt to visit their “Primary Care PT” when a musculoskeletal injury arises. According to a study released by Health Services Research, the ability to directly seek treatment from a physical therapist has been shown to reduce overall health care costs and has even resulted in 27% fewer visits. Research conducted by the CDC also shows that early physical therapy treatment can reduce or eliminate the need for opioids as well by improving physical function, increasing range of motion, and decreasing pain.
Establishing physical therapists as primary care providers should also naturally lead to the idea of physical therapists remaining involved with a patient over a lifetime. Often times, therapists create a plan of care with very specific timelines and goals that ultimately end in “discharging a patient” from physical therapy. Through direct access, physical therapists can instead focus on discharging an episode of care versus discharging a patient. This may sound like semantics, but there is a distinct difference when it is put into practice. An episode of care focuses on a specific injury – we see the patient from the beginning to the end of caring for that injury. We may discharge the patient when they are finished but we haven’t discharged ourselves from the relationship established with the patient- including overseeing their long term musculoskeletal health and helping them with any future injuries or concerns. By having more of an open-door policy, if a person needs to come back for future care, we can provide continued care to help keep them on track and avoid future flare-ups. Establishing the idea that physical therapists can provide wellness or musculoskeletal physicals on a regular basis will help with injury prevention and with maintaining a person’s functional abilities and overall health.
If you are looking to establish a relationship with a physical therapist, look no further than IMPACT Physical Therapy. We have various locations in and near Chicago, staffed with highly trained professionals who are dedicated to designing a personalized plan for you and your needs at any point in your journey to health. Contact us today to schedule your first appointment!