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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: Better PT Access Leads to Better Outcomes

Because of Boston University School of Public Health research, a major insurer has changed its benefits to make it easier for patients to access physical therapy and chiropractic care for low back pain.

Research published in the journal Physical Therapy is the newest of three studies by the team, finding that unrestricted direct access to physical therapy leads to less health care utilization and lower costs. The other two studies found that insurance policies affect the likelihood that someone with low back pain will go straight to a physical therapist or chiropractor for treatment rather than a primary care physician, and that going straight to a physical therapist or chiropractor reduces opioid prescriptions.

The research has led UnitedHealthcare to introduce a new benefit where patients do not have to pay for their first three visits for physical therapy or chiropractic care to treat low back pain.

“This is a wonderful outcome of our work, which will likely shape the way consumers of care make their own choices regarding which provider to see,” says Dr. Lewis Kazis, professor of health law, policy & management, who served as senior author of the most recent study, and senior and lead author, respectively, of the other two studies.

Dr. Kazis and colleagues conducted the research with OptumLabs, which provided claims data on a study cohort of nearly 60,000 patients who had new-onset low back pain between 2008 and 2013 (OptumLabs is part of UnitedHealth Group.).

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