Healthcare, like most other things these days, isn’t known for being cheap. Healthcare costs have been rising for years. But even in this environment, there are still bargains to be had – like physical therapy.
A study that looked at the claims data of 472,000 Medicare beneficiaries with back pain found that when PT 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 PT 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 Starbucks 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.
Money isn’t the only thing that physical therapy can save, though. A paper published in Physical Therapy looked at outcomes when patients went to a PT first vs. seeing a physician first for back pain. It found that patients who went to their physician first needed 33 PT visits on average, while those who went to their PT first only needed 20. Seeing a PT first saves money, but it also conserves another valuable resource – time.
People who get a PT early also tend to have better outcomes. 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 a physical therapist quickly leads to better outcomes in fewer visits with lower costs. Physical therapy proves that even when everything seems to be becoming more expensive, there are still bargains to be found if you know where to look.