In popular culture, the word “access” implies exclusivity—like a backstage pass to a rock concert or high-level clearance to government files. When it comes to direct access to physical therapy, however, the opposite is true. Instead of physician referral this and MD’s approval that, it’s “You need physical therapy? Come on in!” That’s right; direct access essentially cuts out the middleman—no backstage passes, security authorizations, or physician prescriptions necessary. But with autonomy like this, comes new responsibilities.

Physical Therapist Salary Guide - Regular BannerPhysical Therapist Salary Guide - Small Banner

What is Direct Access?

Direct access is exactly what it sounds like: patients having direct access to physical therapy services. This means that they do not need a physician referral or prescription in order to receive the services of physical therapists. Not long ago, this type of open market was simply a dream for both private practice and hospital-based PTs. But today, some form of direct access exists in every state plus the District of Columbia (the most recent additions being Oklahoma and Michigan), and at the very least, a patient can receive an “evaluation and some form of treatment without physician referral,” explains the APTA. However, they note that “some states have time or visit limits or provisions tied to treatment without a referral.” (Stay tuned to our blog; later this month, we’ll break down the direct access PT laws for each state.)

Why Should PTs Care?

As WebPT COO and founder Heidi Jannenga explained in a recent EIM blog post, “We’ve relied too heavily on physician referrals and too little on our own abilities to generate business. We still put too much stock into physicians and insurance companies selling our strengths on our behalf...” This is why PTs must care about direct access. In an era of increased regulations and declining reimbursements, PTs must depend on themselves much more than they have previously, and direct access is their ticket to do just that, because it empowers them to generate their own business.

The APTA explains that beyond being in the driver’s seat when it comes to obtaining patients, direct access also empowers PTs to:

  • Improve collaboration and develop more meaningful relationships with other healthcare providers.
  • Better compete with POPTS and other referral-for-profit entities.
  • “Be responsible for all clinical decisions related to physical therapy patient care.”
  • Diversify revenue and demographics appeal by adding “cash-based services in the areas of prevention, fitness, and health promotion.”
  • Eliminate the need for unnecessary referrals, which saves patients time and money.

One more way direct access helps PTs: it eliminates barriers to entry. If people want PT, there shouldn’t be anything in their way of getting it. That’s what direct access does: opens the market and enables people to seek the services they want without restriction. Sounds about American as apple pie, right? And who doesn’t want apple pie? (Seriously, does anyone have apple pie? I’d love a slice.)


And with that, let’s kick off our direct access month! What do you want to know about direct access? Share your questions in the comment section below, and we’ll tackle them throughout our October blog posts and during this month’s webinar.

  • Building a Private Practice Around Direct Access Image

    articleOct 28, 2014 | 5 min. read

    Building a Private Practice Around Direct Access

    Thanks to countless hours of hard work and dedication, physical therapists now enjoy some form of direct access in every state. The battle for direct access has not been an easy one, but we’ve made a lot of headway. Today, patients have the ability to seek—at minimum—a physical therapy evaluation in every state. This opens many doors for growing your private practice—if you understand how to operate and market your business with direct access in mind. Unfortunately, …

  • Founder Letter: It’s Time for PTs to Unlock the Power of Direct Access Image

    articleOct 7, 2014 | 4 min. read

    Founder Letter: It’s Time for PTs to Unlock the Power of Direct Access

    We as physical therapists have fought for direct access for, well, as long as I can remember. But did you know that all 50 states now have some form of direct access? Yep; thanks to all of our hard work, direct access to therapy has shifted from being the exception to being the rule. Yes, in some states, that access is limited, but still—we now have the ability to, at the very least, perform an initial exam …

  • This Week in PT News, May 1 Image

    articleMay 1, 2015 | 2 min. read

    This Week in PT News, May 1

    New Study Questions Safety of Whole-Body Vibration Platforms Western University just released a study showing that whole-body vibration platforms—which are typically used to treat various musculoskeletal disorders—may cause damage to joint tissues. Researchers noted significant damage to subjects’ knee joints and spines after four weeks of undergoing whole-body vibration. While study leaders say there’s still a need for additional research on the subject, they advise that all rehabilitation practitioners take extreme caution when prescribing whole-body vibration. Study: …

  • Future-Proofing Your Practice: Diversifying Revenue Streams Image

    downloadJan 7, 2016

    Future-Proofing Your Practice: Diversifying Revenue Streams

    What does it take to future-proof your practice? In this guide, we’ll talk about how you can incorporate health and wellness services to diversify your practice’s revenue streams and boost your bottom line. Ready to prepare your practice for the age of payment reform? Enter your email address below to download Future-Proofing Your Practice, Volume 3.

  • Live from the Direct Access Front Lines: The Story of Your Front Office Image

    articleOct 16, 2014 | 6 min. read

    Live from the Direct Access Front Lines: The Story of Your Front Office

    A self-referred patient walks into a PT clinic. Is this the start of a joke or a story with a happy ending? Well, that’s up to you. Your direct access marketing efforts will inspire patients to pick up the phone and dial your clinic. But then what? Your front office team is your direct access front line, and if they’re not prepared to interact with self-referred patients (i.e., those with no referral from another healthcare provider), then …

  • This Week in PT News, July 3 Image

    articleJul 3, 2014 | 2 min. read

    This Week in PT News, July 3

    Michigan Direct Access Bill Signed into Law On July 1, Michigan Governor signed into law Senate Bill 690, now Public Act 260 of 2014, making Michigan a direct access state for physical therapy, which means patients can seek and receive physical therapy treatment and services without a physician’s referral. This law marks a significant milestone for the PT industry: all 50 states and Washington, DC, now allow—in some form—direct access to PT. Read more here . One-Third …

  • This Week in PT News, April 24 Image

    articleApr 24, 2015 | 2 min. read

    This Week in PT News, April 24

    Texas Bill Could Move PTs Closer to Total Direct Access A new bill in Texas could eliminate the need for a patient to obtain a doctor’s referral prior to receiving physical therapy services. House Bill 1263—which just passed the public health committee this week—gives physical therapists the green light to provide treatment for 45 days (or 20 visits) without a physician’s diagnosis. If enacted, this law would be great news for PTs in Texas. However, many professional …

  • Shaking Up the Referral Game: How Direct Access Empowers PTs to be Referrers Image

    articleOct 29, 2014 | 4 min. read

    Shaking Up the Referral Game: How Direct Access Empowers PTs to be Referrers

    Once upon a time, the relationship between physicians and physical therapists was almost entirely linear, and it looked something like this: pain/injury → doctor visit → referral to physical therapist. But now that direct access to physical therapy is pretty much the norm, the path from one of these providers to the other has morphed from straight-shot to circle—which means PTs don’t always have to fall at the end of the line. Why is that important? Well, …

  • Founder Letter: We Are Not a Commodity: The Value of Physical Therapists vs. Physical Therapy Image

    articleAug 9, 2016 | 6 min. read

    Founder Letter: We Are Not a Commodity: The Value of Physical Therapists vs. Physical Therapy

    “I’m going to physical therapy.” Whenever anyone—a friend, a colleague, or even a family member—says this to me, I feel a twinge of disappointment. I know, it sounds crazy coming from me; I am a physical therapist, after all. But that is precisely the reason behind my discontent: I am a physical therapist—a doctorate-level medical professional with the skills and education necessary to diagnose, treat, and coordinate care for my patients. I am not some nameless, faceless …

Achieve greatness in practice with the ultimate EMR for PTs, OTs, and SLPs.