Evidence shows that self-referral to physiotherapy results in increased patient satisfaction as well as benefits for GPs and other stakeholders in relation to time, costs and workload.
Physiotherapists have been allowed to treat patients without prior medical referral since 1978. While self-referral is generally accepted in privately-run clinics, it has only recently become common in NHS services.
The Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) process in England has endorsed self-referral for musculoskeletal disorders to allow easier access to treatment. It has been shown to not increase demand for physiotherapy in the long term.
Evidence of success
Evidence highlights that patients who self-refer have fewer treatment sessions, and that self-referral can reduce waiting lists, as many services have demonstrated. Self-referral also reduces patient-related costs such as prescribing, X-rays, MRI and more expensive medical consultations.
An open access walk-in clinic set up in Port Talbot, Wales reports that improving patient access does not directly affect service activity figures or length of waiting lists. They have also found that different models of self-referral can be successful for the management of musculoskeletal conditions.
Self-referral is simply another way for patients to access physiotherapy services. It needn't be a big change to practice and workload, but can be part of a service improvement plan. 'It’s simple, it works and it’s win-win for everyone,' say staff at one community hospital. 'Just do it.'