The Importance of Direct Access for Physical Therapy During the COVID-19 Pandemic
This blog post about direct access during the COVID-19 pandemic was written by Request Physical Therapy
What Does Direct Access Mean to Physical Therapy Patients?
When seeking medical treatment for any number of conditions, patients in the United States often must first see a physician in order to receive a referral for future services. This is true for specialized medical care of all types. However, is it necessary for all types of medical care that require visits with professionals?
The answer is no, and that’s where the need for direct access comes into play.
Patients, in most cases, have a right to an evaluation or consultation without the need for a referral. This gives them a chance to seek out medical care for a condition and learn more about what their next steps might – and need – to be. Direct access for physical therapy is one of the types of medical care that doesn’t need this referral for patients to begin receiving treatment. One limitation, though? Direct access for some is limited when it comes to using insurance to pay for the sessions. This is where it becomes slightly more difficult to understand.
In a perfect world, physical therapy patients would be able to do it all in one visit. Three steps are essential for the pain management treatment process, but can patients do them all at once?
- Choose a physical therapy clinic
- Having the PT professionals assess their health and capabilities
- Recommending treatment
This is especially true today, with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the amount of contact non-emergency patients can have with their medical providers. In this case, direct access for physical therapy eliminates an extra step – and an extra trip out of the house. Home exercise and home health care with physical therapy make a difference. Consider using them to help yourself – starting today.
Why is Direct Access For Physical Therapy Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic Necessary?
When it comes to types of physical therapy sessions promoting improved health and wellness, starting them quickly is key. Unfortunately, there are commonly multiple obstacles between a patient and a follow-up session – especially these days.
In order to receive treatment after an evaluation or consultation, most patients seek out a referral from their physician before they can take the next step.
While some states don’t require this type of referral to continue treatment, most insurance companies will. This is a barrier for many because the cost for multiple sessions along with the in-office visit for the referral can add up quickly. Schedule this first session and ask for a referral when one is needed. By doing this, patients can skip the back-and-forth with their insurance companies about covering necessary – but not necessarily referred – sessions.
To make matters worse, the validity of these referrals is also often limited to a certain amount of time. Patients are required to ask for a renewal of their referrals throughout treatment courses, especially if their injuries are severe or the body takes a great deal of time to recover. Another common issue is those dealing with chronic conditions or life-long disabilities. If another problem arises or there are other functional deficits, the patient must again request that their physician make changes to the referral. These issues commonly result in the need for additional consultation and assessment. Though helpful, this lengthens the process even more.
With direct access to physical therapy, these patients will be able to save themselves time and effort. They’ll also cut back on the need for scheduling appointments with their physicians.
In the United States, COVID-19 has made it next to impossible to get appointments quickly for routine matters. Waiting extra weeks to even begin the process of starting physical therapy can result in injuries worsening or giving the body more time to weaken. Both of these conditions are things that patients – and physical therapy providers – want to avoid whenever possible. Direct access to physical therapy significantly reduces the probability of these outcomes occurring.
How the COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights the Benefits of Direct Access to Physical Therapy
One of the most important aspects of properly caring for both those that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and those that have not is the idea of social distancing whenever possible. Another? Staying home as much as possible and completing home exercise like foam rolling.
What does staying home actually mean though?
- Eliminating trips that are nonessential
- Not gathering in small spaces like waiting rooms, or even using public transportation
- Using your surroundings to perform home exercises that make sense for your needs
Another important thing to remember? Even though a physical therapist won’t see or treat patients that have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus, general practitioners and family doctors will. This means that each visit into your doctor’s office increases the risk of coming into contact with others that could potentially have or be carrying the virus.
There are other benefits of direct access to physical therapy, too, some of which are listed below.
- By utilizing direct access and bypassing an initial diagnosis from a general physician, patients will leave the schedules and appointment times open for patients that could potentially be sick. It’s a common misconception that a physical therapist is unable to diagnose an injury, and while they cannot provide the same level of diagnosis as a doctor, they can assess a patient’s activity level, stamina, capabilities and the best ways to move forward with treatment.
- Direct access to physical therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic will save people money. How? They may eliminate their initial visit, which also eliminates the costs associated with it, as well as the need to go through their insurance provider. For many, physical therapy is not received in the same medical facility where their doctors are located. This results in bills being sent from two different locations. Why not eliminate one of those if possible?
- With the advances made by medical professionals and the inclusion of new technologies like telehealth services, many things are possible. Patients practice safe social distancing, stay in their homes, and connect with their physical therapists. This is all done before deciding whether or not they want to seek out a diagnosis and prescription for physical therapy from their doctors. It also happens before they utilize the option for direct access to physical therapy.
Every scenario is different. Sometimes, talking through things with a professional before taking action is the best option. Virtual visits with physical therapists are only different in that you aren’t in their office. The same type of advice, directions, and care is possible through a screen. For patients with neurological issues that may not be able to drive themselves to and from sessions, this is a lifesaver.
What to Remember about Direct Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic … and After
The concept of direct access to physical therapy has been around for decades in places like Australia. Unfortunately, it has only become more common in the United States in recent history. As more and more patients, medical professionals and insurance companies have begun to see the benefits of offering direct access in all 50 states, taking this route has gained popularity – and for good reason.
Here are three things to remember about direct access to physical therapy:
- Direct access is a safe, reputable way to seek treatment for illnesses and injury. Patients that utilize this option won’t have a physician diagnose them. This doesn’t mean that the process is dangerous. Physical therapists see and address issues in the function of a patient’s body. They don’t hesitate to recommend that patients seek out additional medical care and support when necessary.
- Direct access can save patients time and money. Even though the outcome is the same (having physical therapy sessions), cutting out the middle man (a physician) means three things.
- One less appointment to schedule and attend
- Fewer people to contact
- A shorter time between deciding that PT is necessary and starting sessions
- Since direct access to physical therapy cuts down on waiting time before starting sessions, patients often spend less time in pain, which means fewer opt for prescription medications. Of course, there will be some injuries and situations where patients need to see a medical professional for medication and additional interventions, but this isn’t the case for everyone… and the sooner patients are feeling better and stronger, the less time they will need to rely on medications.
Conditions and Techniques Recommended by PT Professionals Virtually
This type of care may seem different than others, but it’s actually very similar. direct access to physical therapy with telehealth covers a variety of conditions, but it isn’t only advice that they provide.
Virtually, physical therapists offer guidance to their patients. This applies to suggesting different treatments like cupping, using PT tape (kinesiotape), and even doing stretches. Since the overall goal for PT is to increase strength and mobility, many different treatment options exist.
Being cautious about seeking physical therapy with PT professionals doesn’t need to be complicated. But you need to know that you may not see – and feel – results right away. This doesn’t mean that you’re not making progress, though. Sure, some exercises and techniques aren’t suitable for every medical condition, but the vast majority are.
The overall availability of direct access to physical therapy differs depending on the type of insurance you have and the therapy options near you, like with ReQuest Physical Therapy.
It’s worth looking into. If you’re looking to improve strength, mobility, and health while staying at home during this time, consider PT.
To find out if your insurance provider and medical network support direct access to physical therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic, use the BetterPT clinic locator or download the BetterPT app straight to your phone or tablet. This allows you to view information about available physical therapy treatment near you. For those looking to connect with a physical therapist virtually, the BetterTelehealth platform offered by many clinics is useful. Not only can you schedule appointments and consult before starting treatment, this platform gives you constant contact throughout your sessions, too.
Social distancing and limiting exposure to other people during the COVID-19 crisis doesn’t mean putting off physical therapy sessions.
It simply means finding the best ways to ensure that they can be completed as scheduled. Direct access to physical therapy is one of the best – and most convenient – ways to accomplish this!
ReQuest Physical Therapy consists of two convenient office locations in Gainesville and Tioga. After Joe Cirulli experienced an injury, he founded the business 1986. Unsatisfied with the methods of treatment presented to him, the ReQuest Physical Therapy staff has spent more than three decades improving and implementing the kinds of PT programs they offer patients. Initially focused on correcting lower back and spinal pain, today, these PTs utilize traditional therapy plans along with unique options like Chill Recovery, the MedX Spine Program, and therapeutic massage techniques for improved patient health.