Physical therapist practice and the role of diagnostic imaging

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For healthcare providers involved in the management of patients with musculoskeletal disorders, the ability to order diagnostic imaging is a beneficial adjunct to screening for medical referral and differential diagnosis. A trial of conservative treatment, such as physical therapy, is often recommended prior to the use of imaging in many treatment guidelines for the management of musculoskeletal conditions. In the United States, physical therapists are becoming more autonomous and can practice some degree of direct access in 48 states and Washington, DC. Referral for imaging privileges could increase the effectiveness and efficiency of healthcare delivery, particularly in combination with direct access management. This clinical commentary proposes that, given the American Physical Therapy Association's goal to have physical therapists as primary care musculoskeletal specialists of choice, it would be beneficial for physical therapists to have imaging privileges in their practice. The purpose of this commentary is 3-fold: (1) to make a case for the use of imaging privileges by physical therapists, using a historical perspective; (2) to discuss the barriers preventing physical therapists from having this privilege; and (3) to offer suggestions on strategies and guidelines to facilitate the appropriate inclusion of referral for imaging privileges in physical therapist practice.

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