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.

The State of Rehab Therapy in 2018 - Regular BannerThe State of Rehab Therapy in 2018 - 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.

  • This Week in PT News, June 5 Image

    articleJun 5, 2015 | 2 min. read

    This Week in PT News, June 5

    Depression May Lead to Low Back Pain Multiple studies now show that patients who suffer from depression are at an increased risk of developing lower back pain. Researchers analyzed a pool of data from 19 different studies, ultimately determining that symptoms of depression increased the risk of developing low back pain by around 60%. They cited multiple factors that could account for the link, including age, biological characteristics, lifestyle, and genetics. To find out more about the …

  • Think Big, Think Differently: 6 Bits of Inspiration from Ascend 2017 Image

    articleOct 5, 2017 | 11 min. read

    Think Big, Think Differently: 6 Bits of Inspiration from Ascend 2017

    The overarching theme of Ascend 2017 —the fourth-annual installment of rehab therapy’s premier business summit—was, quite simply, “Think big.” But, based on what we learned from our esteemed group of speakers over the course of two inspiration-filled days in Washington, DC, a more accurate tagline for this year’s conference might have been, “Think differently.” After all, in a field as complex as health care, grand aspirations are not enough. To solve the problems plaguing this industry, we …

  • The State of Rehab Therapy in 2018 Image

    webinarJun 1, 2018

    The State of Rehab Therapy in 2018

    Falling reimbursements. Skyrocketing insurance premiums and copays. Crippling student loan debt. As a PT, OT, or SLP, sometimes it feels like it’s you against the world. After all, the challenges you face on a daily basis are many and complex. But, you’re not alone. In fact, we recently surveyed nearly 7,000 rehab therapy professionals on everything from payment rates and clinic budgets to education costs and salary, and we found some pretty strong—and surprising—trends. [video://fast.wistia.net/embed/iframe/eh5khgt1r6]   Curious …

  • Founder Letter: Is the World Ready to #ChoosePT? Image

    articleOct 4, 2016 | 9 min. read

    Founder Letter: Is the World Ready to #ChoosePT?

    Fall is officially here—and all across the country, people are enjoying cozy sweaters, crisp mornings, and pumpkin spice lattes. For those of us in the physical therapy space, fall brings another exciting seasonal ritual: National Physical Therapy Month (NPTM) . Each October, the PT community—led by the APTA—unites around a specific theme as we celebrate and promote our profession. In an effort to bring even more attention to its #ChoosePT campaign, the APTA has decided to make …

  • What Your Patients Want to Know About PT—But Are Too Afraid to Ask Image

    articleJul 27, 2017 | 7 min. read

    What Your Patients Want to Know About PT—But Are Too Afraid to Ask

    While some of your patients may come to your office having done their research about physical therapy care, others may be pretty clueless as to what you do—and how you do it. With that in mind, it’s important to have an arsenal of ready-to-share information to help your patients understand not only the basic facts on physical therapy, but also the specific details that make you the perfect provider. And the kicker is, you may have to …

  • Founder Letter: 3 Ways to Become a Better PT, OT, or SLP in 2019 Image

    articleJan 8, 2019 | 11 min. read

    Founder Letter: 3 Ways to Become a Better PT, OT, or SLP in 2019

    It’s official; we’ve closed out 2018 and are stepping into a brand-new year. While I don’t recommend saving up those important intentions and resolutions for the kick-off of a new year, it does represent a potent time to release the things that no longer serve us—and embrace more of what does. In the past, I’ve used this occasion to put out some predictions for the year to come—and I’ve done that again here —but right now, I’d …

  • Everything You Need to Know About POPTS Image

    articleNov 26, 2018 | 6 min. read

    Everything You Need to Know About POPTS

    From day one of physical therapy school, we were taught to not even entertain the idea of working for a POPTS practice. I remember hearing the words, “Your license is on the line,” and feeling vaguely scared of the potential fallout from joining one of these heinous practices. But, I was so overwhelmed by the immediacy of school concerns that I didn’t take the time to consider why. I never did work for a POPTS clinic, but …

  • The 3 Immutable Laws of Direct Access Marketing Image

    articleOct 15, 2014 | 8 min. read

    The 3 Immutable Laws of Direct Access Marketing

    It took expensive membership dues, countless lobbying and volunteer hours, and 25 years, but we finally did it: Direct access to physical therapy services is now available in all 50 states in at least one form or another. It wasn’t easy, so it’s important to take a few moments to celebrate our achievements and raise a glass to all of the passionate physical therapists and physical therapy advocates out there who made it happen. Okay, time’s up—and …

  • We Can't Take Direct Access Patients—and Other Lies That are Killing Your PT Practice Image

    articleApr 10, 2018 | 7 min. read

    We Can't Take Direct Access Patients—and Other Lies That are Killing Your PT Practice

    Running a successful practice can be challenging—especially given the current payment climate. Add in the potential pitfalls of making a bad hire and the staggeringly high percentage of patients who drop out of therapy before completing their course of care, and you have a veritable minefield to traverse. So, don’t make it harder than it has to be by convincing yourself (or your staff) that you can’t take direct access patients in your state. As it stands, …

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