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Active-duty Airmen to have direct access to physical therapy clinics

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AFNS) -- The Air Force Medical Operations Agency has recently directed all Air Force military treatment facilities (MTF) to establish direct access physical therapy clinics for active-duty members. The policy shift will now allow an active-duty member with an acute musculoskeletal injury to make an appointment directly with a physical therapist.

For three of the past five years, musculoskeletal injuries, such as knee sprains, have been the number one reason for an active-duty Airman to seek care at an MTF. In addition, musculoskeletal injuries are the largest reason for limited-duty profiles in the Air Force, causing more than 47 percent of the profiles in 2013. Typically, Airmen sought care within the family practice or flight and operational medicine clinics and may have received a referral to a physical therapy clinic.

"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," said Col. Joseph Rogers, a physical therapy consultant to the Air Force surgeon general.

Rogers also cited recent military research showed "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.”

With early access to care, physical therapists can provide tailored treatments to each patient.

"Treatment may consist of manipulation, dry needling, exercise or modalities," said Lt. Col. Brian Young, the assistant professor at U.S. Army-Baylor University doctor of physical program and Air Force physical therapy clinical operations chairman. "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."

According to Rogers, with the recent policy release, each MTF will implement these changes over the next few months.

"We expect each physical therapy clinic to establish appointment availability for acute injuries by the end of the summer," he said.

Active-duty members should contact their local MTF for more information.