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Gov. Brownback signs bill dropping referral requirement for physical therapists

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at 5:09 p.m.

Area physical therapists said they were pleased that Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law this week legislation that allows them to see patients without referrals from primary care physicians.

“We’re now a doctoring profession. The public ought to be able to visit us just like when they seek service from an optometrist, podiatrist or chiropractor,” said Pam Palmer, physical therapist and owner of Palmer Physical Therapy for Women. She’s also legislative chairwoman for the Kansas Physical Therapy Association.

“We are absolutely thrilled. We just want to be part of the health care team and think this is great for health care consumers in the state of Kansas,” she said.

Physical therapists in Kansas have been pushing for the change on and off for 25 years, Palmer said. The law will go into effect July 1.

Its financial impact is unclear.

Diana Sherrard, physical therapist and manager of NovaCare Rehabilitation in Derby, said she doesn’t expect the change will have an immediate effect on business, but it will make a difference over time.

“It’s going to take some public education to let (patients) know they can come in without a referral,” Sherrard said. “I think it should help keep their costs down by not having to see a physician first and then having to come in to see us.”

Critics of the new law said they thought current regulations provided for better patient care and diagnoses and that the new law could result in fragmentation of coordinated care.

“We think if patients can self-refer without a medical diagnosis, then that increases the likelihood of overlooking other underlying medical conditions that couldn’t be treated or diagnosed as quickly,” said Jon Rosell, executive director of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.

“Physical therapists play a very important role in the care and treatment of patients, and they are a vital partner in the team of health care professionals. We happen to feel that team is best led by physicians, and that provides the best degree of safety and effectiveness.”

The new law says that physical therapists may initiate treatment with a patient without a referral, but it also, in its final version, reflected some changes advocated by the Kansas Medical Society, Rosell said.

Those amendments say that if the patient is “not progressing toward documented treatment goals” after 10 patient visits or within 15 business days from initial treatment, the physical therapist will have to get a referral before continuing.

“We think those are reasonable limits,” Rosell said.

There are about 1,000 members of the Kansas Physical Therapy Association, which represents physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and students, according to the association’s website.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com.

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