Direct Access in Physical Therapy: A Systematic Review

Clin Ter. Sep-Oct 2018;169(5):e249-e260. doi: 10.7417/CT.2018.2087.


Background: Grooving evidence suggests that patients could have Direct Access (DA) to physiotherapy. It represents a new model of care, which might lead to improve patients' health status and decrease cost services for healthcare compared with a secondary care referral pathway. The aim of this study is to explore the evidence regarding feasibility, effectiveness, costs, safety and patient satisfaction through DA compared to other organizational models.

Methods: A systematic review was carried out through MEDLINE, CINAHL, and EMBASE databases from their inceptions until March 2018 using keywords related with DA. All articles in English, Italian or Polish comparing the modality of DA with any other organizational modality were included. Two reviewers independently selected eligible studies, extracted the data, and assessed methodological quality using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale for cohort studies.

Results: 1593 articles were initially identified, and thirteen studies met the inclusion criteria. The mean NOS score for study quality was 6.4 ± 1.4 out of a possible total score of nine points. Patients impairments and health care status, were similar through all studies. DA showed less number of physiotherapy treatments, visits to physician, imaging performed and required fewer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and secondary care. Patients were more satisfied with the service in comparison to the group referred by the physician. and costs per subject were lower. DA patients were younger, with a higher level of education; mostly, they presented a less severe clinical condition and a more acute pathologies related to the spine. No harms were reported. Only one study assessed the clinical safety of the DA.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that DA to physiotherapy is feasible considering the clinical and economic point of view. However, more research is still needed due to the low evidence of the reviewed studies and to explore the clinical safety of DA.

Keywords: Physical Therapy Modalities; Primary Health Care; Referral and Consultation.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physical Therapy Modalities* / economics