Did you know that you can be seen by a physical therapist as your first line of care without being referred by a physician? In the state of Georgia, Direct Access was passed in 2006 and revised in 2015. The law specifically states that one must have a doctorate degree in physical therapy or a equivalent degree with 2 years of clinical experience to be able to see patients through direct access. This law also states that patients can only be seen by a physical therapist for 8 visits or 21 days before requiring a referral to a physician.
Physical therapist are highly trained health care professionals with extensive education, clinical experience and evaluative skills. Our education has prepared us to provide assessments that will determine if our services are appropriate or if one needs to be seen by a medical doctor. In the event your condition warrants skilled physical therapy we can initiate care and provide you with the necessary tools to address your impairments and limitations.
If red flags present themselves or if your condition does not improve in a reasonable time, then your physical therapist may then decide to refer you to the appropriate health care provider.
Although Georgia allows physical therapists to be the point of entry for care within our scope of practice, some insurances still require medical doctor’s referral in order for claims for services to be reimbursed.
“Physical therapists shall enhance their expertise through the life-long acquisition and refinement of knowledge, skills, abilities, and professional behaviors”
Exceptions to the Rule
Under certain circumstances the law provides exceptions to the 8 visit, 21 day requirement for physician referral. Please see them below.
- In the case of services provided for health promotion, wellness, fitness, or maintenance purposes, in which case the physical therapist shall refer a client seen for health promotion, wellness, fitness, or maintenance purposes to an appropriate physician if the client exhibits or develops signs and symptoms beyond the scope of practice of the physical therapist;
- In the case of a patient diagnosed within the previous nine months with a neuromuscular or developmental condition when the evaluation, treatment, or services are being provided for problems or symptoms associated with that previously diagnosed condition; or
- (iii) In the case of a patient diagnosed within the previous 90 days with a chronic musculoskeletal condition and noted by a current relevant document from an appropriate licensed health care provider.
If dry needling is to be performed by a physical therapist then one must consult with their physician prior to initiating care. Written disclosures are required to inform patients that physical therapy diagnoses are NOT medical doctor diagnoses and not based off of radiological findings.Although Georgia does not allow for unrestricted access to physical therapy without a referral, it does allow one to have several visits prior to seeing a medical doctor.