Most Americans are aware of the country’s poor ranking in healthcare quality, efficiency, and accessibility. Most of us have felt the increase in healthcare premiums and deductibles as well. The high cost of healthcare has sparked clinicians and researchers to look at healthcare utilization data in order to determine the best course of action for their patients. The research is starting to show the over utilization of prescription drugs, expensive imaging, and the merry-go-round of multiple providers to treat a single condition. This data is also suggesting that services such as physical therapy may be the key to improve the U.S. health system by saving patients thousands of dollars without sacrificing results.
Historically, having the ability to receive physical therapy services was at the mercy of a physician referral. Most people, however, are unaware that in the state of Georgia physical therapists have Direct Access, or the ability to treat patients without a physical referral. There are some restrictions to our direct access, but generally speaking, this means you can go directly to your physical therapists without burning a copay elsewhere.
Now, I’d agree, accessibility may not be the biggest issue. For instance, if you are suffering from terrible neck pain, you are ready to do whatever it takes to feel better in the quickest and most effective way possible. A study by the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy looked at Temple University employees and the use of direct access physical therapy in comparison to visiting the doctor. The study noted equivalent results and outcomes for musculoskeletal issues1. However; this study also noted 73% of the doctor visits ended with a referral to see the local physical therapist and there is even more research that supports this trend, as it relates to dollars in your pocket. Several published studies show the effectiveness of early physical therapy treatment on neck and back pain2,3. These studies highlight savings of $2,200 to $4800 depending on the type of injury and how soon the patient sought out physical therapy. Most of these savings come from avoiding unnecessary imaging, specialist visits, prescription drugs, and injections.
This isn’t a sales pitch; it’s a public service announcement. The therapists at Horizon Physical Therapy pay attention to research like this. We analyze our own outcomes by comparing them to large national data pool (FOTO)4. The U.S. health system isn’t performing well enough for us. Our goal is to flip the national ranking in quality, efficiency and accessibility.
1. Ojha et al. Direct-Access Physical Therapy Portal of Entry Compared with Physician Portal of Entry for Temple University Employees with Recent-Onset Musculoskeletal Conditions: A Blinded Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2008. 2. Horn M, Fritz J. Timing of Physical Therapy Consultation on 1-year Health Care Utilization and Costs in Patients Seeking Care for Neck Pain”. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2008. 3. Fritz JM, Brennan GP, Hunter SJ. Physical Therapy or Advanced Imaging as First Management Strategy Following a New Consultation for Low Back Pain in Primary Care: Associations with Future Health Care Utilization and Charges. Health Services Research. 2015. 4. www.fotoinc.com