Bill gives patients direct access to physical therapy

A new law gives Oklahoma patients direct access to physical therapy without first getting a doctor’s referral, said Professor Jennifer Ball, director of OCCC’s Physical Therapist Assistant program.

The implementation of House Bill 1020, which took effect Nov. 1, allows patients to be evaluated and treated by a physical therapist for 30 days without a referral from a doctor or other provider, Ball said.

“The physical therapist will need to perform a thorough evaluation, including a detailed past medical history, all of which will be accessible to the PTA to treat the patient.  The evaluation and past medical history are current practice and the responsibility of the supervising PT.”

The American Physical Therapy Association describes the role of a PTA as “someone who works as part of a team to provide physical therapy services under the direction and supervision of the physical therapist.

“PTAs assist the physical therapist in the treatment of individuals of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives.”

Prior to the law, a physical therapist was only allowed to evaluate a patient and could not provide any kind of treatment to the patient without a referral from a doctor.

Now the patient can benefit from quicker access to treatment, reduced out-of-pocket expenses, less hassle and hopefully, a speedier recovery, Ball said.

“We are celebrating Physical Therapy Month in November and the most exciting thing to celebrate is ‘direct access,’” she said.

The bill was promoted by the Oklahoma Chapter of American Physical Therapy Association.

Ball said the enactment of the bill made Oklahoma the 49th state to grant patients direct access to physical therapy treatment when Gov. Mary Fallin signed it May 23.

“We had a select number of physical therapist assistants who got to be there at the signing of the bill,” she said.

One benefit of the law will be faster care for patients, Ball said. She said referral for treatment from a doctor can take several weeks or sometimes even months.

Kenyon Bonds, second-year PTA student, said it’s a step in the right direction.

“It was exciting to hear our bill being talked about in the House (of Representatives),” he said. “I am excited to see the patients benefit.”

Ball said now that a patient can bypass the doctor visit with its additional cost and go directly to a physical therapist for the treatment of minor injuries, Oklahomans can have a more active role in obtaining the necessary treatment they think is beneficial to them.

However, she said, there are some important limitations to the new law that everyone should be aware of before proceeding with treatment of any kind. Those include workers compensation, 30-day time period and insurance coverage.

Workers hurt on the job must obtain a referral from a doctor before seeing a physical therapist in order to claim workers compensation.

Secondly, treatment from a physical therapist can only be provided for a 30-day time period. Ball said additional treatment after 30 days will require a referral from a doctor.

Lastly, some insurance may not cover physical therapy within the first 30 days of treatment unless the patient obtains a referral from a doctor, Ball said. Checking with your insurance provider prior to visiting a physical therapist to confirm coverage can save you time and a little bit of hassle, she said.

Still, Ball said, the change is for the better.

“We now have direct access to patient care as of Nov. 1,” she said. “We are really excited about that.”

Ball said continuing education classes for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants in the community are being offered so practitioners can learn about the legal and ethical aspect of direct access.

“It’s very timely,” she said. “OCCC is hosting a course for the local community of therapists to make sure we’re doing all the right things since it is very new to us.”

The American Physical Therapy Association represents more than 88,000 members nationwide.

The Oklahoma chapter serves around 900 active and retired physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and physical therapy students in Oklahoma, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.

Michigan is the final state with no form of direct access to treatment by physical therapists but currently has pending legislation.

Ball can be reached at or 405-682-1611, ext. 7305.

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