The evidence and momentum continue to build for seeing a Physical Therapist first for patients with low back pain. Physical Therapists have continually been shown to be clinically and cost effective providers for low back pain conditions. This approach, direct access to Physical Therapy, has been utilized by large hospital systems and Fortune 500 companies to both accelerate a patient’s recovery and reduce health costs. Studies report up to $1500 in cost savings when using this approach secondary to decreased utilization of health care services include office visits, medications, imaging, and surgery.
A recent study followed patients with a recent onset of low back pain over a one year period (Frogner et al. Health Services Research. 2018). Participants healthcare utilization was calculated based on whether they saw a Physical Therapist first, a Physical Therapy later, or were not prescribed Physical Therapy. Consistent with the existing literature, patients who were seen by a Physical Therapist first had a 90% lower probability of being prescribed an opioid, as well as, lower rates of emergency department and imaging services. The lower utilization of healthcare services were reflected in the significant cost savings found in the PT first group.