I am very supportive of my patients when they feel they need to return to see their MD, get a second opinion from a specialist, or seek additional imaging or testing for an issue that is not responding to Physical Therapy and other conservative treatments. I do, however, also make sure that my patients know how important it is for them to seek Physical Therapy early on when they start to notice things like pain in a joint or a part of their body, stiffness or lack of mobility, decreased strength, or pain with performing a motion or activity.
In line with some of the other posts in this blog, I have found that giving patients the peace of mind that their symptoms are not indicative of a major illness, encouraging them to believe in their body’s natural ability to heal, and giving them some exercises and techniques to perform in order to be proactive about their healing process can be very powerful tools.
Alternatively, I have seen firsthand what a couple months of WebMD research, YouTube exercise, and “my neighbor told me…” can do to a patient’s pain, limitations, and overall potential for improvement.
In a study from the BMC Health Services Research Journal (found here), researchers examined the relationship between the timing of Physical Therapy consultation/treatment and overall healthcare utilization and cost. They categorized 308 patients with complaints of neck pain into early PT (within 14 days of onset), delayed PT (15-90 days of onset), and late PT (91-364 days of onset). Their results showed that patients in the delayed and late PT groups had an increased likelihood of receiving opioids, getting a spinal injection, and having MRI, X-ray, and CT scans performed.
These differences in symptom management resulted in an increased cost of $1063 in the delayed PT group, and $2172 in the late PT group compared to the early PT group.
Increased numbers of tests and procedures can often lead our patients down a frustrating road of referrals, exams, imaging, surgeries, increased cost, and fear-based behavior surrounding their pain, all of which may not be necessary. Early access to high quality, on demand Physical Therapy, particularly that we can deliver to their home in the form of a concierge PT, is a key component in helping our patients avoid these potential pitfalls.
Making ourselves more available to these patients will help us as Physical Therapists, help our patients, and as this study’s findings suggest, help ease the burden on the medical system as a whole.