In a new policy shift, the Air Force Medical Operations Agency is directing all Air Force Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs) to establish direct access to physical therapy for all active duty members.
This will now enables an active-duty member with an acute musculoskeletal injury to make an appointment directly with a physical therapist.
A news release issued by Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs explains that for 3 of the last 5 years, musculoskeletal injuries, such as knee sprains, have been the number 1 reason for active-duty Airman to seek care at an MTF. They are also the largest reason for limited-duty profiles in the Air Force, causing 47% of the profiles in 2013.
Typically, the release notes, Air Force personnel sought care within the Family Practice or Flight and Operational Medicine Clinics, and may have received a referral to a physical therapy clinic.
However, Col Joseph Rogers, physical therapy consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General, says in the release that Air Force physical therapists “are trained and credentialed to provide independent practice, to include medication prescription, order appropriate diagnostic imaging, place patients on profiles, and refer to other practitioners as appropriate.”
He adds that military research has shown that “patients who received early physical therapy had total lower healthcare costs, fewer medical appointments, and fewer invasive procedures than those with delayed physical therapy addressed more than 14 days after injury.”
Early access to care can enable physical therapists to provide tailored treatments for each patient, according to the release.
Lt Col Brian Young, assistant professor at US Army-Baylor University Doctor of Physical Program and Air Force Physical Therapy Clinical Operations Chair, states in the release that, “Treatment may consist of manipulation, dry needling, exercise, or modalities.”
“In today’s fiscally constrained environment and exponential increase in healthcare costs, early access to physical therapy is key for early return to duty and function after musculoskeletal injuries,” Young continues in the release.
Rogers expects that each MTF will implement these changes over the next few months, according to the release.
“We expect each physical therapy clinic to establish appointment availability for acute injuries by the end of the summer,” he says.
[Sources: Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs, Patrick Air Force Base]