Consumers now have direct access to physical therapists under a bill signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Michelle Landry, a physical therapist at Performance Physical Therapy, says instead of having to get a referral from a specialist or general practitioners, patients who feel they need physical therapy now have direct access.
“Previously in Louisiana, until this bill was passed, a physical therapist could evaluate a patient, but not treat a patient,” she said. “We could evaluate a patient to see if they qualified for physical therapy services, but in order to receive services, they either had to go to a physician, a physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, a dentist or a chiropractor to get a referral.”
Until the passage of Senate Bill 291, Louisiana was one of seven remaining states with the most restrictive laws regarding physical therapy. The other 43 states already have laws on the books that give patients direct access, she said.
“Direct access is not a new idea,” she said. “It has been around for quite some time, and in those states, there is no increase in medical malpractice. There’s been no increase in the amount of physical therapy utilized in those states either, which were the two concerns the opposition raised.”
She says trends have shown the overall cost of healthcare is lower in those states.
“When you have direct access to physical therapy, there is a lower amount of imaging, a lower use of opioid medications, and what they’re seeing in those other states is a more effective model of healthcare.”
SB 291, now Act 396, was authored by Sen. Fred Mills Jr., District 22. Landry says one of his arguments in support of the bill is that patients know their bodies and most likely know what is best for them. Part of the discussion as well, she says, is there has to be a better way to treat patients than with opioid medication.
She explained part of the bill is a patient can now go to a physical therapist that meets one or more criteria: the physical therapist must have a doctorate, they have practiced more than five years, or they have completed a clinical residency, fellowship or clinical specialty.
“As long as a physical therapist meets one of those criteria, we can evaluate and treat without a referral,” she said. “We have up to 30 days for the patient to show progress. If the patient hasn’t shown progress in those 30 days, we’re obligated to refer them to their physician of choice.”
The physician may then decide to send the patient back to physical therapy or utilize other treatment options.
Landry has a doctorate in physical therapy from LSU New Orleans, which she earned in 2011, and received her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston in 2008. She is originally from Ruston.
With five years in as a physical therapist, she specializes in orthopedics, but she also enjoys pediatrics, she said.
“I enjoy orthopedics, because we have such a unique profession in that we really get to physically do something to alter someone’s pain and function,” she said. “I get to put my hands on someone and change the way their body moves and works to get them functioning better than they were.”