What’s The Big Deal About Direct Access?
Direct access is a very big thing in the physical therapy world. All 50 States in the USA allow for some form of direct access, but it varies quite a bit depending on where you live. What it basically means is that you can go and see a physical therapist without having to see your family doctor first. At the bottom of this post is quick breakdown of what each state allows and what your options are.
Here is a very typical scenario of how direct access can help you
You wake up in the morning with a backache. This isn’t all that uncommon as you’ve had them before, but this one is different. The shower doesn’t seem to help you loosen up like it usually does. The drive to work is really painful because it hurts to sit in one spot that long. Once you’re at work it seems to actually get worse instead of getting better, and now your upper back and neck are starting to hurt too. And to make matters worse, you toss and turn all night because you just can’t get comfortable enough to get more than a couple hours of sleep.
Unfortunately when you call the doctor’s office the next morning you find out that they won’t be able to see you for three more days. Thankfully your coworker lets you know that their physical therapist is able to get anyone in to see them within 24 hours and that you don’t have to get a referral from your doctor. Now instead of waiting a few more days in pain, you can see a therapist today and get a jump-start on the road to feeling better!
We won’t go into the numbers here, but there is lots of research that shows the sooner you can get in to see a physical therapist, the sooner you can get better. Oh, and that will also save you a ton of money in the process. All that and no expensive drugs, time off of work, and definitely no sitting on the sidelines watching life when you can (and should) be participating in it.
***It is important for you to also check with your insurance provider, as some insurances (like Medicare and Medicaid) won’t pay for physical therapy without a physician referral. Your physical therapist will be able to help you with this when you call, but you should always check as well.***
The state by state breakdown on direct access and any limitations
Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia all have unrestricted direct access. No referral is required and there are no restrictions on the number of visits or treatment duration.
Arkansas, North Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin have only minor limitations on direct access for certain scenarios. Your therapist will be able to inform you if that will apply to your situation.
California, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia allow for direct access under specific provisions. For many of these states, the provisions are limited by number of treatments or calendar days under the treatment of a physical therapist before needing a doctor’s referral to continue.
Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, and Wyoming all have a limited form of direct access. In some of these states you can get evaluated by a physical therapist, but no treatment is allowed. Your therapist will be able to inform you what is allowed in your state.
If you would like to see the fine print (and source of information for this article) on the legislation regarding direct access you can download the PDF via this link from the American Physical Therapy Association
If you want to find a physical therapist near you, check out our Find A PT map!