Can You See a PT Without Going to the Doctor? What You Need to Know About Direct Access


Think you need to visit a doctor before seeking physical therapy? Think again. As of last year, all 50 states, Washington DC, and the US Virgin Islands allow for some form of direct access to physical therapists, effectively removing the middleman from this type of medical care. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), this legislative milestone means people across the country can now see a physical therapist (PT) for, at minimum, an evaluation—without a referral from a physician or other provider.

The Perks of Direct Access

Here’s why direct access to PT is beneficial to you:

  1. You can start treatment sooner, because you don’t need a physician’s referral (unless your insurance requires it or the care you need is outside the scope of PT. See more on all that below). And because you don’t need to hit up a physician first, you needn’t shell out the money for or devote the time to that office visit.
  2. You can choose your own PT provider, rather than be beholden to the PT of your physician’s choosing.

What to Know Before You PT

Check Insurance

Before you pick up the phone to make your physical therapy appointment, first check in with your insurance provider. While many insurance companies support direct access, some still won’t pay for your treatment without a physician referral. So, if you don’t have one—and if you don’t inquire with your insurance about your coverage before seeking treatment—you could end up paying out of pocket.

Know Your State Law

Additionally, you should know that some states have limitations on the duration and number of physical therapy visits patients can obtain without a referral. These laws can get a bit hairy, so if check out our Physical Therapy Direct Access Guide for an easy-to-read summary of your state’s direct access law.

Understand When Your PT Must Refer

At your initial appointment, your PT will perform a physical examination to pinpoint your underlying condition. If your PT can’t treat you, he or she will let you know if you need to see a PT who specializes in the treatment you need or if you need to consult with a different kind of medical professional altogether, such as your primary care physician.


Ready to take control of your health? Check out our PT finder to locate physical therapists in your area.

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