Physical therapists (PTs) who function as musculoskeletal primary care providers (PCP) may provide a better route to recovery than family practice physicians, according to a new study that focused on use of PTs in the military. Decreased use of radiology and medication, and a higher return-to-duty ratio for patients whose PCP was a physical therapist were cited as indicators that PTs are effective "musculoskeletal gatekeepers."
In the study, which appears in the October issue of Military Medicine, data were collected on treatment approaches and outcomes among PTs and family practice physicians serving as the PCP for members of the military with musculoskeletal complaints. The results showed that PTs used radiology in 11% of cases while family practitioners had an 82% usage rate. Similarly, medication use for PTs was 24%--family practitioners used medication at a 90% rate. The return-to-duty rate was 50% higher for patients whose PCP was a physical therapist.
Author Lt Col Troy McGill, PT, MPT, USAF, BSC, writes that these results mirror similar efficiencies realized with direct access in the civilian world. In the face of attention to cost containment, and an ever-dwindling supply of internists and family practitioners, he writes that "PT direct access can help fill this void and give patients the safe and effective care they need in a reasonable time."
APTA provides a wealth of resources in support of direct access and continues to work with policymakers to strengthen the ability of PTs to provide the most efficient and effective care possible. Members of APTA can access the full text of McGill's article through Open Door.
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