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Keywords:

  • Access to care;
  • physical therapy;
  • physician referral;
  • direct access

Objective

To compare patient profiles and health care use for physician-referred and self-referred episodes of outpatient physical therapy (PT).

Data Source

Five years (2003–2007) of private health insurance claims data, from a Midwest insurer, on beneficiaries aged 18–64.

Study Design

Retrospective analyses of health care use of physician-referred (= 45,210) and self-referred (= 17,497) ambulatory PT episodes of care was conducted, adjusting for age, gender, diagnosis, case mix, and year.

Data Collection/Extraction

Physical therapy episodes began with the physical therapist initial evaluation and ended on the last date of service before 60 days of no further visits. Episodes were classified as physician-referred if the patient had a physician claim from a reasonable referral source in the 30 days before the start of PT.

Principal Findings

The self-referred group was slightly younger, but the two groups were very similar in regard to diagnosis and case mix. Self-referred episodes had fewer PT visits (86 percent of physician-referred) and lower allowable amounts ($0.87 for every $1.00), after covariate adjustment, but did not differ in related health care utilization after PT.

Conclusions

Health care use during PT episodes was lower for those who self-referred, after adjusting for key variables, but did not differ after the PT episode.