Direct Access to Physical Therapy Services Is Safe in a University Student Health Center Setting

J Allied Health. 2015 Fall;44(3):164-8.


Objectives: The purpose of this retrospective descriptive study was to determine if direct access to physical therapy (PT) in a university health center placed patients at risk for adverse events.

Background: Direct access to PT is underutilized, even though it has been reported to reduce medical costs; however, there is a paucity of evidence on the clinical risks related to this practice.

Methods: The University of Colorado at Boulder instituted a direct access musculoskeletal injury clinic in 2000. A retrospective analysis was performed on patient visits to Wardenburg Student Health Center from January 1, 2001 to December 31, 2011. Descriptive statistics were analyzed for the number of new patients examined with and without a referral, documented patient adverse events, and any disciplinary or legal action against a physical therapist.

Results: During the 10-year data collection period, 12,976 patients accessed PT without a referral. There were no reported unidentified cases of serious medical pathology or adverse events and none of the PTs had their credentials or licenses modified or revoked for disciplinary action.

Conclusions: Patients managed through direct access are at minimal to no risk for negligent care when evaluated and treated by PTs in a university student health center setting.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases
  • Physical Therapists
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / adverse effects*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Students*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult