In Colorado patients have direct access to their Physical Therapist and do not require a physician referral to begin treatment. This healthcare pathway is associated with improved health care outcomes and lower health costs compared to seeing a physician first. Seeing a physician first has been associated with early imaging, specialist referrals, and medications which are usually not required in the management of musculoskeletal conditions.
Most of the research on the benefits of early Physical Therapy for patients with musculoskeletal disorders has been done on patients with spine pain. Low back pain continues to be the number one reason patients seek out the care of a Physical Therapist or primary care physician. Physical Therapists are uniquely educated and trained to provide evidence based interventions including patient education, manual therapy, and exercise to help patients get back to the activities they enjoy in the shortest amount of time. A recent study reports on the cost savings associated with this care compared to seeing another provider.
Bise and colleagues published their retrospective study on the utilization of early care by a Physical Therapist in the journal Physical Therapy (2023). Authors published a retrospective analysis of close to 30,000 patients with low back pain who sought care for a new episode of low back pain between 2015 and 2018. They analyzed the impact of the first medical provider utilized and the patient’s subsequent healthcare costs and utilization. As expected health care costs and utilization was lowest when care began with a Physical Therapist compared to a physician. The greatest health care utilization was found when patients first sought care in the emergency department.