It is no secret that prices have been going up. Gas is expensive. Food is expensive. The housing market is crazy. If you are looking for ways to pinch some pennies or stretch your dollars, physical therapy might be just what you are looking for.
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 physical therapy 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 Virginia Mason Health Center in Seattle teamed up with Aetna and Starbucks. They 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. The cost savings was so great that Virgina Mason was losing money on treating back pain, so Aetna ended up paying them more for physical therapy treatments because they were saving so much money.
A paper published in Physical Therapy looked at outcomes when patients went to a physical therapy first vs. seeing a physician first for back pain. It found that patients who went to their physician first needed 33 physical therapy visits on average, while those who went to their physical therapy first only needed 20. Seeing a physical therapist first saves money, but it also saves time.
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 percent lower probability of receiving an opioid prescription, a 28 percent lower probability of having advanced imaging services, and a 15 percent lower probability of an emergency department visit.
High quality research consistently shows that taking advantage of direct access and getting to your physical therapist quickly leads to better outcomes in fewer visits with lower costs. We think that is a deal worth taking advantage of.