Effectiveness and Consequences of Direct Access in Physiotherapy: A Systematic Review

Marco Gallotti, Benedetta Campagnola, Antonello Cocchieri, Firas Mourad, John D. Heick, Filippo Maselli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background. Direct access in physiotherapy (DAPT) occurs when a patient has the ability to self-refer to physical therapy without physician referral. This model of care in musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs) has shown better outcomes than the traditional-based medical model of care that requires physician referral to access physiotherapist services. This traditional physician referral often results in a delay in care. Unfortunately, DAPT is still not permitted in many countries. Objectives. The primary objective of this systematic review was to compare the effectiveness, safety, and the accuracy of DAPT compared to the physician-led model of care for the management of patients with musculoskeletal disorders. The secondary objective of the present study is to define the physiotherapists’ characteristics or qualifications involved in DAPT. Materials and methods. Databases searched included: Medline, Scopus and Web of Science. Databases were searched from their inception to July 2022. Research strings were developed according to the PICO model of clinical questions (patient, intervention, comparison, and outcome). Free terms or synonyms (e.g., physical therapy; primary health care; direct access; musculoskeletal disease; cost-effectiveness) and when possible MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) terms were used and combined with Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT). Risk of bias assessment was carried out through Version 2 of the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool (ROB-2) for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and the Newcastle Ottawa Scale (NOS) for observational studies. Authors conducted a qualitative analysis of the results through narrative analysis and narrative synthesis. The narrative analysis was provided for an extraction of the key concepts and common meanings of the different studies, while the summary narrative provided a textual combination of data. In addition, a quantitative analysis was conducted comparing the analysis of the mean and differences between the means. Results. Twenty-eight articles met the inclusion criteria and were analyzed. Results show that DAPT had a high referral accuracy and a reduction in the rate of return visits. The medical model had a higher use of imaging, drugs, and referral to another specialist. DAPT was found to be more cost-effective than the medical model. DAPT resulted in better work-related outcomes and was superior when considering patient satisfaction. There were no adverse events noted in any of the studies. In regard to health outcomes, there was no difference between models. ROB-2 shows an intermediate risk of bias risk for the RCTs with an average of 6/9 points for the NOS scale for observational studies. Conclusion. DAPT is a safe, less expensive, reliable triage and management model of care that results in higher levels of satisfaction for patients compared to the traditional medical model. Prospero Registration Number: CRD42022349261.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5832
JournalJournal of Clinical Medicine
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • cost-effectiveness
  • direct access
  • physical therapy
  • physiotherapy
  • primary care
  • self-referral

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Effectiveness and Consequences of Direct Access in Physiotherapy: A Systematic Review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this