Reducing healthcare costs is a major initiative in our country on both a personal and political level. Part of making this a reality requires offering the best treatment at the right time. A recent study shows that for those dealing with back and/or neck pain, seeing a physical therapist first can reduce both the cost of treatment and recovery time. Who doesn’t want to get better faster and pay less for it?
This study of more than 600 patients with low back and/or neck pain compared patients who underwent physical therapy by seeing a physical therapist as their first step (called “direct access”) to those who took a more traditional medical model approach and saw a physician first to obtain a referral for therapy. Results from this study revealed that the direct access group achieved equally positive outcomes, but their length of treatment, number of visits, and overall cost of care were significantly less. In fact, these patients often “saved” over $1,500.00 compared to the traditional group!
One of the most common arguments against direct access is concern over a serious condition presenting as musculoskeletal pain, such as a kidney pathology manifesting as low back pain. However, there was not one incident of a missed diagnosis or adverse event in this study, supporting the fact that even entry-level physical therapists are adequately trained to differentially diagnose and refer patients to another provider if they are not suited for physical therapy.
The authors summarize their findings nicely, “The differences observed, at a minimum, suggest that the availability of the choice to pursue direct access to physical therapy for back and neck pain is safe and provides similar outcomes, with cost savings, compared to those of traditional medical referral.”
So, if you have back or neck pain, consider talking to a physical therapist first. It is safe, effective, and could save you a lot of money!