Photo Above: A physical therapist providing therapy to a patient next to the words “Direct Access.”
Photo Credit: Image taken from the Illinois Physical Therapy Association website:

As of August 2018, physical therapy services in Illinois are available without the referral of a doctor. This is called direct access. What exactly does this mean? In the past, and still in some states, you would have to first make an appointment with your doctor who would then decide to send you to physical therapy. With this new legislation, you can now decide for yourself if you’d like to see a physical therapist! This may seem a bit surprising for people who are not familiar with physical therapy, but a PT is trained to detect a true musculoskeletal condition (in our scope of practice) and also screen for red flags indicating a reason to seek further medical treatment (outside our scope of practice). If someone comes to see a PT without a referral and it doesn’t seem that they would benefit from therapy, the PT can then refer out to the most appropriate medical professional. If appropriate for therapy, the PT just needs to inform the patient’s primary care provider within 5 business days that they have initiated treatment. This is much easier than two separate appointments to get to the same outcome, and physical therapists have an extensive education to be able to provide this service.

As a disclaimer, there are some exceptions within the legislation for direct access. It is important to know that some types of health insurance may still require a referral to receive physical therapy services. There may also be a cap on the number of visits allowed before having to see your doctor. However, there are many positives to appreciate about direct access. It cuts out an additional appointment (and co-pay), speeds up the time it takes to get symptom relief, maximizes the benefits of treatment, promotes conservative treatment of conditions, and overall lets more people access and benefit from physical therapy.

As a student physical therapist, it’s exciting to me that this is all happening at a time where I’m preparing to be a clinician. It is an important role to play, potentially being someone’s first point of access into the health care system. For example, someone could not see a doctor for years, decide to come to physical therapy for the typical back pain, and come out of the appointment knowing they have elevated blood pressure because I was able to take their vitals and convey to them the importance of it. This ever so slightly amplifies the responsibility I will take on as a physical therapist, really taking on a holistic approach to care. It makes me that much more motivated to soak up as much information as I can while in school to best serve those that come to me for help.

Direct access is an exciting change for not only physical therapists, but potential patients too. For more about direct access, the following is a link to the press release on the Illinois Physical Therapy Association website:

In addition, here is the link to the new legislation:

If you think you would benefit from seeing a physical therapist, I hope this gives you even more of a reason to go. Choose PT!