Yes, you can choose your own physical therapist -- and you don’t need a physician’s referral.

You may not be aware that you have the freedom to choose your own physical therapist, but it’s a fact: all 50 states and the District of Columbia allow direct access to physical therapist services without a physician's referral. There is a caution, however:  your insurance policy may require a visit to your primary care physician first or may limit your access to its “preferred providers” list.

Just be aware that you are the most important member of your own health care team, and you are entitled to choose the most appropriate health care professional to meet your goals. Your physician may refer you for physical therapy that is to be provided in his or her office, or to a facility in which he or she has a financial interest.  Or you may be a resident of a skilled nursing facility that offers in-house or contracted physical therapy – and that may be the most convenient choice for you.  Regardless, it is your right to choose your own physical therapist; you are not obligated to receive physical therapy in any specific facility.

Of course, if you “go it on your own,” you should insist that your physical therapy be provided by a licensed physical therapist. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offers these guidelines for choosing a physical therapist for your care, and reminds you that physical therapists who are members of APTA are bound by the association's Code of Ethics and are committed to providing competent and compassionate care.

What does ‘licensed physical therapist’ mean? This phrase denotes a physical therapists who is licensed by the state in which he or she practices.  If your care is administered by a physical therapist assistant, check to make sure that he or she is licensed or certified as required by state law and that the care is being directed and supervised by a licensed physical therapist.

Be sure to ask if the clinic is accepted by your insurance company. If so, your financial responsibility for the service should be cushioned by your insurance.  However, if you need a physical therapist who has special skills related to your condition, or if the location or other aspects of the care or the facility meet your needs, this may be a good choice for you, regardless of the insurance participation.

The physical therapist's clinic you choose, may assume the task of submitting claims on your behalf to your insurance company. There may a copayment, which is your responsibility, and the amount may depend on whether the physical therapist is part of the insurer's provider network. You also will have to meet your deductible – that portion of medical costs you will need to pay before the insurance benefit begins. It is recommended you contact the insurance company before your treatment begins, verify out-of-pocket costs.

Don’t have any experience with physical therapists in your area? Use Find a PT to locate a physical therapist in your area. You can read information about the type of physical therapist that can help with your particular symptom or condition.

Your first visit should include an evaluation by the physical therapist who will perform an examination to identify current and potential problems. Based on the results, the therapist will design a plan of care and may provide instructions for care at home to facilitate your recovery.

Whether this is your first visit to a physical therapist or you've been treated in the past, there are things you can do to make your visit as successful as possible:

· When you call to make your appointment, ask whether you should wear or bring a certain type of clothing. You may be told to avoid tight or formal clothes, in case the therapist wants you to engage in activities during the first session.

· Make a list of any questions that you have, to make the best use of your time.

· Write down any symptoms you've been having and for how long. For example, is your pain or symptom:

Better or worse with certain activities or with certain positions, such as sitting or standing?

More noticeable at certain times of day?

Relieved or made worse by resting?

· Write down information about your medical history, even if it seems unrelated to the present condition. For example:

Make a list of prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements that you are taking.

Make a note of any important personal information, including any recent stressful events, injuries, incidents, or environmental factors that you believe might have contributed to your condition.

Make a list of any medical conditions of your parents or siblings.

Consider taking a family member or trusted friend along to help you remember details from your own health history and to take notes about what is discussed during your visit.

Make sure you can see and hear as well as possible. If you wear glasses, take them with you. If you use a hearing aid, make certain that it is working well, and wear it. Tell your physical therapist and clinic staff if you have a hard time seeing      or hearing. If available, bring any lab, diagnostic, or medical reports from other health care professionals that may be related to your medical history.

  • Bring a list of the names of your physician and other health care professionals that you would like your physical therapist to contact regarding your treatment.

In our next column, we’ll talk about financial preparations and what to expect during your therapy sessions.


American Physical Therapy Association