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, but 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, which 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, but direct access for some is limited when it comes to using insurance to pay for the sessions, which is where it becomes slightly more difficult to understand.
In a perfect world, physical therapy patients would be able to choose a physical therapy clinic, have the PT professionals assess their health and capabilities, and recommend treatment in one visit, especially with things the way that they are 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 would eliminate an extra step – and an extra trip out of the house.
Why is Direct Access For Physical Therapy Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic Necessary?
When it comes to physical therapy sessions promoting improved health and wellness, starting them quickly is key, but 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 will 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, which is a barrier for many because the cost for multiple sessions along with the in-office visit for the referral can add up quickly. By scheduling this first session and asking for a referral when one is needed, 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 then 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. If another problem arises or other functional deficits are found, the patient must again request that their physician make changes to the referral, which can result in the need for an additional consultation and assessment, lengthening the process even more.
With direct access to physical therapy, these patients will be able to save themselves time and effort, as well as to 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, and waiting extra weeks to even begin the process of starting physical therapy can result in making injuries worsen, 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, and direct access to physical therapy will significantly reduce 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, and staying home as much as possible. This means eliminating trips that are nonessential, not gathering in small spaces like waiting rooms or even using public transportation as often as many people have in the past. Another important thing to remember? Even though a physical therapist will not be seeing or treating patients that have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus, general practitioners and family doctors will… which 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, because they can eliminate their initial visit, which can also eliminate 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, which may result 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, patients can practice safe social distancing, stay in their homes, and connect with their physical therapists before deciding whether or not they want to seek out a diagnosis and prescription for physical therapy from their doctors – or utilize the option for direct access to physical therapy. Every scenario will be different, and sometimes, talking through things with a professional before taking action is the best option.
What to Remember about Direct Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic … and After
Though the concept of direct access to physical therapy has been around for decades in places like Australia, 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. Even though patients that utilize this option won’t have a physician diagnose them, that doesn’t mean that the process is dangerous. Physical therapists are trained to see issues in the function of a patient’s body, and will not 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 will be the same (having physical therapy sessions), cutting out the middle man (a physician) means one less appointment that needs to be scheduled and attended, fewer people to contact, and 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.
Though the overall availability of direct access to physical therapy will differ depending on the type of insurance you have and the therapy options near you, like with ReQuest Physical Therapy, it’s worth looking into, especially if you’re looking to improve strength, mobility and health while staying at home during this time. 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 will allow you to view information about available treatment, and the BetterTelehealth platform offered by many clinics can also be useful when seeking a consultation, or even beginning treatment.
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, and 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. Founded in 1986 after Joe Cirulli experienced an injury and was 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.