Healthcare costs in the United States has been rising at a rate outpacing inflation for many years. Considering physical therapy as the first option for treating painful joint and muscle conditions can reduce costs and improve patient outcomes. A study that looked at the claims data of 472,000 Medicare beneficiaries with back pain found that when physical therapy was the first treatment, costs were 19% lower than when people got injections first and 75% lower than for people who were sent straight to surgery. The study also found that in the year following diagnosis, people who got PT first had costs 18% lower than those who got injections, and 54% lower than those in the surgery group.
Another example happened in 2006 when Starbucks sent workers with back pain to see both a physical therapist and physician for their first treatment. Use of MRI dropped by 1/3, people got better faster, missed less work and were more satisfied with their care.
A paper published in Physical Therapy looked at outcomes when patients went to a PT first vs. seeing a physician first for back pain. It found that patients who went to their physician first needed 33 PT visits on average, while those who went directly to their physical therapist first only needed 20 visits. Seeing a PT first not only saves money, but time as well. Starting with physical therapy can provide earlier pain relief, faster healing and better outcomes.
People who see a physical therapist early also tend to have better outcomes. A study of 150,000 insurance claims published in Health Services Research, found that those who saw a physical therapist at the first point of care had an 89% lower probability of receiving an opioid prescription, a 28% lower probability of having advanced imaging services such as MRI, and a 15% lower probability of an emergency department visit.
High quality research consistently shows that taking advantage of direct access (directly contacting your PT first without a required doctor prescription) and getting to a physical therapist quickly leads to better outcomes in fewer visits with lower costs. Physical therapy proves that even when everything seems to be becoming more expensive, the concept to ‘choose physical therapy first’ is the most effective and affordable way to manage most painful joint and muscle conditions.
If you are interested in starting physical therapy, or have further questions, please call us at 815.756.8524 so you can start feeling better right away!