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Direct Access to Physical Therapy

What Does Direct Access mean for Physical Therapy Patients?

Direct Access means that patients can go to a physical therapist for an evaluation of their condition and receive treatment without seeing a medical practioner first to receive a prescription for physical therapy.  

Illinois Granted Direct Access to Physical Therapy on August 16th, 2018!


Governor Rauner signed Illinois House Bill 4643 into law on August 16th, 2018 allowing patients access to their physical therapist without having to see a physician first.  This allows patients access to informed practitioners sooner, so that the care needed can begin sooner, getting you back to work, sports and life without pain or disability!  At Clarity, you can call to schedule an evaluation by anyone of our orthopedic specialists today, we will do our best to see you within 48 hours!

What does the research say about Direct Access?

A study published in April 2012 in the journal Health Services Research (HSR), suggests that "the role of the physician gatekeeper in regard to physical therapy may be unnecessary in many cases."

  • Patients who visited physical therapists directly for outpatient care had fewer visits and lower overall costs on average than those who were referred by a medical doctor, after adjusting for age, gender, diagnosis, illness severity, and calendar year.
  • In addition, overall related health care use – or care related to the problem for which p
    hysical therapy was received, but not physical therapy treatment – was lower in the self-referred group after adjustment. Examples of this type of care might include physician services and diagnostic testing.
  • The study also found that individuals were similarly engaged with the medical care system during and after their course of physical therapy care, suggesting that continuity of care did not differ between the 2 groups.

A news release on this study was distributed to the national media October 13, 2011, and provides more detailed information. Review the abstract.

Earlier research has supported direct access to physical therapists as safe and cost-effective, but the HSRstudy is by far the most comprehensive to date. Not only did it look at a far more extensive number of episodes than previous research, but it also controlled for illness severity and other factors that could have affected the patients' outcomes.

Direct Access FAQ:


Are physical therapists qualified to deliver services independent of a referral?

Absolutely. Physical therapists are educated at the post-baccalaureate level and receive extensive education and clinical training in the examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, and intervention of patient/clients with functional limitations, impairments and disabilities.  At Clarity, all of our physical therapists have their Doctorate degrees, and have clinical specialization in orthopedics and manual physical therapy, and have undergone hundreds of hours of clinical education in the best evidence-based techniques. 

Is there a concern that if a physical therapist initiates treatment without a referral that they will miss a patient's underlying medical conditions?

The risk of any health care provider missing underlying conditions is always present. However, physical therapists have an extremely low rate of malpractice and a low incidence of claims or complaints filed against them. The rate of malpractice insurance has been shown to be no higher in states where physical therapists practice without a referral versus states where physical therapists practice with referral.

At Clarity, our most important role is the protecting of our patient’s health, safety and wellbeing. 

If you have other questions about direct access, don’t hesitate to give us a call to discuss them!

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