Direct Access to Physical Therapy - Illinois HB 4643

Until recently, Illinois was one of only a small handful of states that continued to require physical therapy patients to obtain a prescription for treatment from another medical practitioner. This summer, though, that’s due to change! In early June, the Illinois state senate voted unanimously to pass HB 4643, a bill which amends the law to allow physical therapists to diagnose and treat patients independently, without a prescription from another practitioner.

We and the Illinois PT community are very excited about this upcoming change! Eliminating the need for physician referrals will reduce wait time for appointments, cut down on time spent on bureaucratic tasks for both patients and practitioners, and lower costs associated with multiple doctor visits. In fact, a study recently published by the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy found that patients who chose physical therapy as their first treatment option for back and neck pain saved an average of $1543 in office visit, imaging, and treatment costs compared to patients who saw other specialists first and were later referred to physical therapy. Both groups showed similar improvement in their symptoms.

In addition to reducing costs, allowing patients to choose PT first is small but significant step towards prioritizing personalized, non-addictive, non-invasive treatment options for many painful and chronic conditions. Under the language of HB 4643, physical therapists are required to notify a patient’s primary care doctor that they are receiving treatment, and physician approval of a plan of care may still be required if a patient’s symptoms do not show improvement within the allotted time frame. However, access to physical therapy related to fitness or wellness will be unrestricted. This important change means that anyone who feels as though they benefit from physical therapy can incorporate treatment into their regular wellness routine, rather than waiting until symptoms severe enough to limit their daily functioning. You’ll be able to schedule a regular check in or tune up at intervals that feel right to you and your therapist. Ultimately, we hope that patients’ ability to choose physical therapy as their first treatment option will become a part of a movement towards a holistic, person-centered understanding of health and well-being.

As of this month, HB 4643 is on Governor Rauner’s desk awaiting signature. He is expected to approve it within the allotted 30 days. You can find out more about the bill here. We’ll keep you updated as the bill goes into effect and changes are rolled out!