Friday, October 12, 2018

Direct Access for Physical Therapy in Illinois!

by Lauren Sweeney, Office Manager
August 17 was a day like any other in our office: we treated patients, we answered billing questions, we scheduled future appointments for care. But it was unlike any other day in one very important regard: we no longer had to ask patients, “Do you have a prescription from your doctor?”

Up until last month, Illinois state law required patients to have a doctor’s prescription prior to seeking treatment from a licensed physical therapist. On August 16, however, Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law a bill that allows patients in the state of Illinois to have direct access to physical therapy treatment. Patients seeking physical therapy may now simply book an appointment to do so, no differently than they would with their GP or dentist.

This is hardly a revolutionary idea, either. Illinois was one of the last states in the nation to adopt the bill, which is expected to reduce the need for unnecessary X-rays, MRIs, and opioid prescriptions. According to a recent BlueCross BlueShield study, direct access to physical therapy led to a 31% reduction in total health care costs and a 90% reduction in opioid use.

Research also reveals that patients who visited a physical therapist directly for outpatient care had fewer visits, leading to lower overall costs. A study published by the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy discovered that patients who decide to choose physical therapy as their first treatment option for spine management saved an average of $1543 in their overall care as compared to patients who chose the traditional medical referral route. Both groups showed similar clinical improvement in their symptoms. 

That said, the law does come with stipulations: a physical therapist must refer a patient to a health care professional if the patient does not demonstrate measurable or functional improvement after 10 visits or 15 business days, whichever occurs first. Additionally, this law does not affect Medicare patients, who are still required to have a prescription for physical therapy prior to treatment per federal law. Most patients, however, now have the ability to seek treatment that is safe, effective, non-addictive, and non-invasive for many painful conditions.

Our physical therapy community is confident that with fewer barriers, the patient can choose physical therapy as a first treatment option, leading to a speedy, safe and less expensive recovery.