Currently, in all 50 states, people can come to be evaluated and treated by a Physical Therapist (PT) without the need for a referral from a physician. However, the extent and limitations of these services differ in each state based on that individual state’s laws.
DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU CAN SEE A PHYSICAL THERAPIST WITHOUT SEEING A PHYSICIAN FIRST?
Currently, in all 50 states people can come to be evaluated and treated by a Physical Therapist (PT) without the need for a referral from a physician. However, the extent and limitations of these services differs in each state based on that individual state’s laws.
Per the Connecticut State Practice Act, people can be seen by a PT for evaluation and treatment in this state without any initial referral. As long as the patient is showing objective and measurable progress, the PT can continue treatment without a referral. However, if there is no objective and measurable improvement in the patient’s condition within a period of 30 days or 6 visits, whichever comes first, then at that time the patient must be referred.
Furthermore, most people believe that they need to see a physician first before seeing a PT so that the physician can determine a diagnosis and order imaging of the area in pain. Currently PTs go to undergraduate and graduate school for a total of 7 years, whereby upon graduation they receive their Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Education in graduate school consists of intensive training in musculoskeletal, cardiopulmonary, and neuromuscular evaluation and treatment, as well being able to screen for and identify diseases and issues that we are unable to treat. Because of this, PTs are extremely capable of determining proper diagnoses for patients and developing appropriate plans of care without a referral or advanced imaging.
Several studies have even shown that seeing a PT earlier in their care, especially for patients suffering from low back pain, can help decrease the overall cost of treatment and lead to earlier improvements in pain and disability. As an example, one large study found that patients with low back pain who saw a PT first for their treatment ended up spending 72% less for their care over the following year ($1,871 vs. $6,664 for patients who saw a physician and underwent early imaging) with no difference in long term outcomes for pain or disability (Fritz et al 2012).
If you or someone that you know is currently experiencing low back pain or any other injury, you should see a PT first to not only save money but to also starting feel better, sooner.