Texans no longer need a referral from a physician to see a physical therapist, making the Lone Star state the 49th in the country to adopt the change.
Since its passing, House Bill 29 has become one of the hundreds of laws that recently went into effect as of Sept. 1 and Guadalupe Regional Medical Center Physical Therapist Barry Jackson says it’s is a long time coming.
“It’s taken at least 15 to 20 years to really get some traction and we’ve finally gotten the support that we were looking for the change,” Jackson said. “Sometimes there’s a lot of heavy dollars involved when you get a law or a proposed law that gets into a committee. And, if the right person is sitting on that committee, the end result that may affect their bottom line, they’re not going to push that committee and that’s just how these laws work.”
Prior to the change, patients could wait months before seeing a physical therapist leaving them to suffer more pain in the process, Jackson said.
“In the past, patients would visit a physician for any ache or pain,” Jackson said. “From there they would get a referral to a specialist, and what this did was it accrued a lot of time. If you go in with a knee problem and your family practitioner sends you to an orthopedic surgeon, that could take four to six weeks… Then they try different things and eventually it could take eight to 10 weeks before a patient would get to see the physical therapist because the requirement was nonsurgical.”
Streamlining the time to see a physical therapist can help a lot of people with different ailments, he said.
“Some of the people this could help the most are those with neuromuscular or orthopedic pains or common aches and pains,” he said. “Another example is they’ve shown research that physical therapy helps with the decreased use of opioids. So if we can get in quicker and work on that pain management without using medications, then there is a definite positive.”
Although the new law allows patients to seek treatment from a licensed physical therapist directly, it does limit that treatment to 10 days before a referral from a physician is needed.
“It would be nice to have direct access and not be restricted to 10 business days,” Jackson said. “It’d be nice for patients to come in and let us treat them and then just keep the physician updated. We have the knowledge base that if we’re not going to see changes in two or three weeks, then we’re not going to continue to treat. It’s kind of like banging your head into the wall.”
Limitations aside, Jackson says that the passing of House Bill 29 is a step in the right direction for Texas and will serve as an example for residents throughout the state that physical therapists are ready, willing and able, to help people in need.
“I think in the long run, Texans are going to benefit greatly from this just as the other states have benefited with direct access,” Jackson said.