Direct Access and Physical Therapy

Direct Access and Physical Therapy

physical therapy month
What is direct access to Physical Therapy?

Direct access to physical therapy is the ability of patients to be evaluated and treated by a physical therapist without a referral from a medical doctor or other healthcare practitioner.  If you feel you have an issue or injury that my benefit from the skilled treatment of a physical therapist, don’t wait another day in pain- refer yourself! Direct access can also be referred to as a self-referral.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has lobbied successfully in many states to help change the law to allow patients direct access to physical therapy. By having direct access in each state, physical therapist are recognized as the licensed professionals of choice to initially manage musculoskeletal and movement disorders in patients.

In the state of South Carolina, you can be treated by a licensed Physical Therapist without a referral/prescription for 30 days.  If treatment needs to be extended beyond these restrictions, a prescription from your physician, dentist, or healthcare practitioner would be required.

Why Is Direct Access Important?

Healthcare is expensive.  A system that allows the patient to directly seek the services of a physical therapist can help save healthcare dollars by eliminating unnecessary tests or other specialist referrals. Many conditions can be successfully evaluated and treated with no expensive diagnostic testing.

Is Direct Access Safe?

Some opponents of direct access to physical therapy services argue that patients may be put at risk if they visit a physical therapist directly. Physical therapists lack the ability to order certain diagnostic tests or prescribe medication to help manage pain.

To date, there is no objective data indicating that self-referral to physical therapy puts patients at increased risk. Also, there is nothing indicating that self-referred patients consume more healthcare dollars during or after their physical therapy care.

Physical therapists are also trained to recognize “red flags” that may signal the need for more invasive medical intervention.  These “red flags” might indicate a diagnosis that is out of a physical therapist’s scope of practice.  In those cases, referral to your physician or healthcare provider is made immediately.

Will Direct Access Physical Therapy be covered by my insurance?

Most insurance companies will cover physical therapy under direct access and self-referral.  Benefits/coverage will be verified prior to your initial evaluation in our clinic.  If your insurance plan does not pay for services under Direct Access you can then obtain a referral/prescription from your physician or you can choose to pay out-of-pocket.

If you are suffering from a musculoskeletal condition that causes functional movement limitations, use your best judgment when deciding which healthcare practitioner to see. A visit to your local physical therapist is a safe place to start on the road to recovery.  If you are unsure if physical therapy is right for you, a discussion with your doctor may be necessary to help you decide.
If you have any additional question or concerns about becoming a Physical Therapy patient or direct access, please call us! We are now seeing clients in the evenings at Elite Nutrition & Performance- 3020 Devine Street Columbia, SC 29205.
courtney andrews
Courtney B. Andrews, DPT, Cert. DN
Andrews Physical Therapy


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