In New York State, as in every other state, people can see their physical therapist without the need for a physician referral. There is increasing evidence if you see a physical therapist soon after you develop musculoskeletal pain or are injured, you will recover sooner and spend fewer healthcare dollars. A recent study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy looked at people that received care for spine pain. They had the option of going to the physical therapist directly, or through physical referral. Although both groups had positive outcomes – reduced pain and improved function – the people that went directly to the physical therapist got better faster and their overall costs of care were substantially less compared to those that first saw their physician.
There are several reasons why early physical therapy treatment makes such a difference. First, a more direct route to the physical therapist reduces the time between an injury, or the onset of a problem, and appropriate treatment. This in turn can shorten the recovery time.
Second, seeing a physical therapist in the early phase of an orthopedic problem has been shown to decrease the need for diagnostic imaging and medications. Thus, the patient assumes less risk and there are fewer medical expenses.
Third, the outcomes of care, including improvement in function and decrease in pain, are better when patients are treated with an active approach that includes education on self-care and prevention.
So if you develop a musculoskeletal problem, consider going to see your physical therapist for a thorough evaluation - first.