OLR Research Report

March 13, 2003




By: John Kasprak, Senior Attorney

You asked for information on a recently passed New Jersey law giving patients direct access to physical therapists.


A newly enacted law in New Jersey gives patients direct access to physical therapists. This law, Chapter 18 of the 2003 laws, establishes standard for direct access, conditions for referral to other licensed health care professionals, and new licensure standards for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.


Under Chapter 18 of the 2003 Public Laws of New Jersey (S. 2004, attached), an individual no longer is required to get a referral from a physician prior to seeking the services of a physical therapist, in most circumstances. Within 180 days after enactment (the legislation was signed by Governor McGreevey on February 13, 2003), the New Jersey State Board of Physical Therapy Examiners must adopt standards establishing conditions under which a physical therapist is required to refer a patient to another licensed health care provider. Until that time, a physical therapist (1) must refer the patient if he fails to demonstrate reasonable progress during the first 30 days of treatment, and (2) within 30 days of initial treatment of functional limitation or pain, consult with the individual’s licensed health care professional as to the

appropriateness of the treatment, or if there is no licensed professional of record, recommend that the patient consult with one (see 4, p. 2-3 of the attached act).

The new law clarifies that physical therapists and physical therapist assistants are barred from diagnosing disease or practicing medicine, surgery, chiropractic, podiatry, occupational therapy, dentistry, or prosthetics.

Under the legislation, a referral from a licensed physician, dentist, podiatrist, or chiropractor acting within the scope of his practice is still required if the patient seeking physical therapy wants the services to qualify for reimbursement as medical expense benefits under the personal injury protection coverage of an automobile insurance policy (see 26, p. 8-9).


The legislation imposes new licensing requirements for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. Physical therapists must (1) have completed a physical therapy program from an accredited college approved by the board; (2) have a master’s degree from an accredited college; (3) pass a written examination approved by the board; (4) have experience satisfactory to the board; (5) be at least 18 years of age; (6) have good moral character; and (7) meet other requirements the board may establish by regulation. The law waives the master’s degree requirement for applicants who earned a bachelor’s degree before January 1, 2003. (see 8, p. 4)

Physical therapist assistant licensing requirements include an associate’s degree and completion of a two-year physical therapy assistant program, satisfactory experience, and passage of the written examination (see 21,p. 7).

The new law also directs the licensing board to establish continuing education requirements for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants ( 25, p. 8).

JK: ro