Benefits of Direct Access Physical Therapy

Benefits of Direct Access Physical Therapy

Direct access physical therapy has many benefits for patients, healthcare companies, AND therapists.

Researchers have compared the patient benefits of direct access physical therapy versus therapy treatment after physicians’ referral. Studies conclude that accessing physical therapy treatment without a physician’s referral is safe, cost-effective, and provides faster delivery of health services. Studies also support physical therapists’ ability to accurately diagnose musculoskeletal problems as well as systemic illness based on a patient's clinical presentation and past medical history.

Benefits of Direct Access Physical Therapy

#1: Patients are able to receive treatment quickly.

With direct access PT, a patient can receive some type of physical therapy in all 50 states of the US without a physician’s referral. This reduces a lot of waiting time to get an appointment to see a primary care physician. Sometimes, it takes patients weeks (or even months) to obtain a doctor's visit. In this time period, the patient is likely to begin taking over-the-counter medications for pain or swelling, and may even go to an emergency room to seek immediate relief. By the time the patient does get to see the doctor, the physician will likely prescribe physical therapy for pain management. Therefore, with direct access PT, patients spend less time and effort on scheduling a physician’s visit or in the ER.

#2: Direct access PT is cost-effective.

Since a patient can receive some relief from pain almost immediately, direct access PT is proven to be more cost-effective than physical therapy treatment after physicians’ referral. Physical therapy often reduces the need for medications, injections, or imaging. In fact, with direct access PT, studies support fewer number of PT visits and quicker recovery. This benefits patients, insurance companies, and therapists.

#3: Patient satisfaction scores are higher.

Studies reveal direct access PT patients have higher satisfaction rates from their PT services than PT services without direct access. Even though the physical therapy treatments were essentially identical, the ability to receive PT services faster as well as having quicker recovery were the two main reasons for higher patient satisfaction.

#4: Direct access PT uses alternative pain management methods.

The CDC recommends alternative pain management methods via physical and occupational therapy to reduce the need for opioid use. With direct access PT, a patient can receive benefits quickly, and is, therefore, less likely to utilize pain medications. By incorporating alternative treatment approaches for pain, physical therapists help reduce the burden of opioid addiction. If you are interested in marketing your PT practice for direct access, please check your state guidelines as a first step:

View Direct Access PT Guidelines Per State

Continuing Education for Direct Access PTs

Many state PT boards require direct access continuing education to include CEUs on the topics of evaluative procedures and differential diagnoses. To view direct access CEUs, click here


  1. Deyle, D. Direct Access Physical therapy and Diagnostic Responsibility: The Risk-to-Benefit Ratio. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2006; 36 (9): 632-634.
  2. Ojha, H.A., Snyder, R.S., Davenport, T.E. Direct Access Compared with Referred Physical Therapy Episodes of Care: A Systematic Review. Physical Therapy. 2014; 94 (1): 14-30.
  3. Moore, J., Goss, D.L., Baxter, R.E., DeBerardino, T.M., Mansfield, T., Fellows, D.W., Taylor, D.C. Clinical Diagnostic Accuracy and Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Patients Referred by Physical Therapists, Orthopaedic Surgeons, and Non-Orthopaedic Providers. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2005; 35:67-71.
  4. Boissonnault, W.G. Primary Care for the Physical Therapist: Examination and Triage. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders.
This article was written by Bijal Shah, Clinical Educator

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