Accessing Physical Therapy Without A Physician Referral

Oct 1 | , , , , , ,


Oftentimes, you need to see your primary care doctor in order to get a referral to see a specialist. If you have suffered an injury, or need rehabilitation after surgery, or suffer from certain conditions like vertigo or obesity, you may need to see a physical therapist.

Is it possible to see a physical therapy provider without a physician’s referral?
You may be able to see a physical therapist without the referral of a doctor through direct access. If you believe that you have a condition that can benefit from PT, you can refer yourself.

Direct access, which is sometimes called self-referral, is offered in 48 of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia through each individual state’s “State Practice” act. Michigan and Oklahoma still require a referral. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) successfully lobbied in many states that patients should be allowed to have direct access to physical therapy as they would to a primary health care provider. By allowing this, APTA said therapists should be considered the licensed professional of choice to manage musculoskeletal and movement issues from the start. These professionals are qualified to recognize the specific needs of individuals when it comes to physical therapy treatment plans, and they can also see when a patient needs to be evaluated by another health care provider before PT can begin. In these cases, the therapist can refer you for a consultation.

One of the most important reasons for direct access is that medical care can become expensive very quickly, especially if you have to see more than one provider in order to get the treatment you need. The system of direct care access can eliminate unnecessary visits and allows you to go right to the specialist you need most in order to get better. The Alabama chapter of APTA said that in a cost-effectiveness study, the costs for physical therapy visits by patients who had first seen a doctor were 123 percent higher than for patients who went directly to a PT.

Another benefit of direct access is that you can get started with treatment sooner rather than later. Having to see your primary care doctor first, get the referral and then schedule an appointment with a physical therapist is much more time consuming than if you go straight to step No. 3. Delays in treatment are not only frustrating, but may lead to the condition getting worse.

Keep in mind that the states that do allow direct access must abide by certain restrictions on access. In some areas, only PTs who have been practicing for three or more years can offer direct access, while in other states, you can receive treatment from a self-referral for only a certain time frame or number of visits. Be sure to check on the specific laws of your state before opting for direct access.

If you have a musculoskeletal injury or condition and believe that physical therapy is the best course of action for treatment to help you recover or rehabilitate, consider direct access, especially if you’re prohibited by your budget.


This article is brought to you by PREFERRED Therapy Providers Inc. PREFERRED is the nation’s leading payor management services network. Our expertise is working with physical, occupational and speech therapy practices – from single clinics to multiple clinic locations.