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Skip the script

January 23, 2019

A patient works on strengthening exercises under the direction of NCH Physical Therapist Kesuri Sethuraman.

Now you can go directly to physical therapy without a physician referral

Scheduling an appointment with a physical therapist just got easier. A new direct access law makes it possible for patients to schedule an appointment for physical therapy (PT) without having to visit a primary care physician first. Gerald Bragg, NCH Director of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, explains.

What is direct access?

The Illinois Physical Therapy Act was recently amended to allow patients to have direct access to most licensed PT services. Until now, Illinois residents seeking PT services were required to have a prescription from a provider such as a physician, advanced practice nurse or physician assistant. This change removes that requirement for most PT services, allowing for a speedier path to recovery.

What are the benefits of direct access?

This change will mean a faster path to relief and recovery for patients with an injury or condition typically treated by a physical therapist. It can mean lower medical costs for patients. Physical therapists still involve the patient’s physician to assist with medical management, as needed.

Is direct access available to everyone?

Most insurers are adopting this change immediately. When patients call NCH to register and schedule a PT appointment, NCH staff will promptly confirm the patient’s insurance benefits and requirements. If a prescription for therapy is needed, we’ll work with the patient’s doctor to obtain one.

If a patient’s insurance plan does not require a physician order to allow a patient to access their PT benefit, that patient can schedule PT without first seeing his or her doctor. It is essential, however, that the patient’s physician and physical therapist communicate to coordinate care. There are some insurance plans that do require a physician referral prior to approval, but NCH can assist patients through this process.

What if my insurance does not cover direct access?

We will determine this prior to your first therapy session and work with your physician to obtain the order, if necessary.

How long are PT sessions, and what can a patient expect at his or her first visit?

As health professionals, we are committed to providing patients with a thorough evaluation to ensure their needs are met. Evaluations are typically scheduled for 60 minutes, though our evaluative process continues throughout the course of treatment. The physical therapist listens to patients’ concerns, provides ongoing physical assessment, focuses on patients’ needs and goals, and shares recommendations.

What rehabilitation services are included with direct access?

The change in law applies to PT only. A prescription is still required for occupational therapy and for speech therapy. Additionally, some specialty PT services (such as wound debridement, which is the removal of infected skin cells around a wound) still require a physician’s order.

Can you describe the various equipment offered at NCH and exercises patients typically do during PT sessions?

We use various types of equipment – such as treadmills, bikes, pulleys, weight equipment and upper body cycles – for improving range of motion, promoting flexibility and strength, and maximizing balance and movement. Skilled manual therapy techniques can be used to assist in maximizing function. Several pain-relieving modalities that help decrease pain, reduce inflammation and promote healing (such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, hot and cold treatments) assist us in providing effective care. Exercise is the best prescription for maximizing flexibility, joint mobility, strength, cardiovascular endurance, balance, posture and ongoing wellness. The physical therapist provides a solid explanation of all aspects of service along the way.

How can patients schedule an appointment?

Outpatient PT is offered at seven convenient NCH locations throughout the northwest suburbs, including our newest location at Harper College in Palatine. Early morning and late evening appointments are available as well as weekend hours on Saturdays. To schedule an appointment, call 847-618-3700 and choose the outpatient physical therapy option. Our representative will help identify a location most convenient for you.

See all of the NCH Outpatient Rehabilitation locations at