In the world of physical therapy, the concept of direct access is a relatively new one–it’s a practice that allows clients who can benefit from the expertise of a PT to seek one out on their own accord – no doctor’s note required.

This is a good thing. It empowers people who want pain reduction, improved movement and/or better performance to seek the expertise of a licensed PT without first having to seek the blessing of a doctor. Yet this progressive step comes with challenges, the main one being this: how can a PT practice that has long relied on the “middle man” approach for establishing clients (a.k.a., referrals) best adapt to this paradigm shift toward direct access?

It all comes down to education and marketing, said our own Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA, a principal/consultant here at Vantage Clinical Solutions, in an article featured in this month’s edition of PT in Motion. Titled “Putting Patient Self-Referral Into Practice,” the article discusses at length the challenges physical therapy practices today are facing as they adapt to the world of direct access.

In the article, Quatre points out that instead of cozying up with area physicians and other leaders within a traditional referral network, direct access forces PTs to craft a message directly for consumers – for the masses. This message should be crafted in a way that achieves two things: let people know that direct access is an option, then offer tangible benefits for choosing this course.

“Tell them, ‘Did you know that you can see your physical therapist directly? And did you know that doing so can save you money and time and get you the expertise you need?’” Quatre said in the article.

Quatre goes on to articulate a few of the differences between the traditional PT business model and the direct access model, extolling the virtues (and complexities) of online channels and social media.

“In the old model, you’d just make sure your referral source is happy and [you] keep that relationship up,” he said. “Now, with direct access, you’re trying to reach the masses.”

According to the article, this can be hard work. Competing in the broader world means setting yourself, your message, your services – your brand – apart from all others. This takes creativity, persistence, foresight and a deep understanding of your clients and your market, all of which are discussed (with real-world examples) in the article.

PT in Motion is the professional issues magazine of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). If you’d like to read the entire article but can’t access the July 2012 edition at www.apta.or/ptinmotion, contact us here and we’ll be happy to send you a copy.