New law enables Texas patients to see physical therapist without physician referral

Updated: Aug. 30, 2019 at 12:11 PM CDT
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(KTRE) - A new law taking effect Sept. 1 will allow Texans who want treatment for an injury or pain management to see a physical therapist without first visiting a physician or other healthcare provider.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 29, which will allow Texans to seek treatment from a physical therapist without first receiving a referral from a physician.

“Texas Hospital Association, Texas Medical Association, and Texas Orthopedic Association all spoke against it, but did come to the compromise we have now,” said Laurie Hurst, a physical therapist with her doctoral of physical therapy. “We have a limited period of time where can see a patient without a referral. That is to prevent things from going on too long if they really do need a medical referral to their doctor.”

Physical therapists must first earn their doctorates in Physical Therapy in order to see patients without a referral, or must earn Continuing Education Credits (CEU).

Currently, a limited number of private insurance companies pay for physical therapy without a referral. Still, with high deductibles people may see a cost savings going directly to the physical therapist, rather than spend time and money at a physician’s office.

“The charge still applies toward your deductible,” said Hurst.

Additionally, Medicare doesn’t pay for physical therapy without a referral, yet. Hurst says there are efforts to change those laws at the federal level.

“It certainly would make the whole network of getting medical care a lot easier," said Carol Shaw, a patient at NRG Aquatic Physical Therapy. “I do appreciate the increased requirement in terms of training to protect the profession from those who would pretend what they are not. I appreciate it very much.”

As for patients who may skip a physician for financial reasons, a window of care -- 10 business days or more, according to Texas Physical Therapy Association -- is in place to ensure patients are receiving proper treatment from which they are benefiting.

“If the individual or condition is above the skills of the physical therapist, of course, we do refer them back to doctors for more medical examination. In which it boils down to the Hippocratic Oath of healthcare providers, which is first, do no harm," said Jeffrey Cuevas, a physical therapist at NRG.

On Sept. 1, Texas becomes the 49th state to allow patients direct access to physical therapy. Other states have repeatedly shown the benefits in terms of both positive patient outcomes and financial swing, states trade publications.

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