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Physical Therapists Look To Expand Role

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Flickr Creative Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

With the opioid crisis as a backdrop, Florida physical therapists are promoting their services with a new website and statewide educational campaign in hopes of expanding their footprint in the health-care marketplace.

The Florida Physical Therapy Association’s campaign, dubbed “PT for Pain,” is designed to promote how physical therapists can play a role in helping patients manage pain.

Jamie Dyson, president of the Florida Physical Therapy Association, said the 6,460-member group wants to “educate the public on how to access physical therapy and what physical therapy can do for them and to help them manage chronic pain.”

That’s a goal that Florida Medical Association General Counsel Jeff Scott finds laudable, given a medical examiner’s report that showed the total number of drug-related deaths in Florida jumped 22 percent from 2015 to 2016. The number of opioid-related deaths --- 5,725 in 2016 --- grew by 35 percent.

“Anything that you can use that doesn’t involve an addictive substance, I think would be a good thing,” said Scott, whose statewide association represents more than 20,000 physicians.

Ultimately, though, Dyson said the goal for the Florida Physical Therapy Association is to convince the Legislature to change state law to allow physical therapists to work independently from physicians.

“As in 19 other states across the nation, the goal is to have unrestricted direct access,” Dyson told The News Service of Florida.

Scott said that is a step too far.

“We’re certainly opposed to unrestricted direct access,” Scott said. “To allow physical therapists to continue providing treatment without taking appropriate steps to make sure they (patients) are being cared for properly is ill advised and dangerous.”

Only the Legislature can approve that change. But physical therapists also are pushing administrative changes that would authorize them to broaden their services.

The Board of Physical Therapy has proposed a rule that would authorize certain physical therapists to begin offering “dry needling” services. “Dry needling” is a term physical therapists use to describe a technique of inserting filiform needles into the skin at various “trigger points,” which causes certain responses.

Physical therapists who support the proposal say dry needling can be used as an alternative to opioids as part of a pain- management regimen.

The Florida State Oriental Medical Association has challenged the rule in state administrative court.

In Florida, physical therapists treat patients who are referred to them by physicians. Since 2015, though, physical therapists have been authorized to treat patients for up to 30 days without a physician’s referral. For example, that could mean a patient who suffers a lower-back injury by incorrectly lifting or twisting doesn’t need to make an appointment with a doctor.

Dyson said physical therapists can treat patients within 48 hours and without opioids. But Dyson acknowledged that patients aren’t aware of the ability to directly access the care. Prior to the change in 2015, physical therapists were authorized to treat patients for 21 days. Dyson said the extra time provides therapists another week of care with patients.

The Legislature also changed the law in 2015 to allow physical therapists to treat patients who are referred by out-of-state physicians, a move that makes it easier for snowbirds to continue their treatment, Dyson said.

The Florida Physical Therapy Association has not kept track of how the changes have impacted their members’ practices.

The physical therapy website is here.