Is a diagnosis nevertheless required by a diagnostician in order for a physical therapist to provide treatment under current law?
Physical therapists are not required to have a referral from a physician in order to provide treatment. The scope of practice of a licensed physical therapist in 1965 was set forth in then Section 2660 of the Business and Professions Code (All section references are to that Code). That section provided:
Section 2621 further provides:
The scope of practice of physical therapists (now section 2620 of the Code) was notably broadened by the authorization to perform physical therapy evaluations and treatment planning. May a physical therapy evaluation supplant a diagnosis when a diagnostician has not seen a patient initially? The Legislature reiterated in section 2621 that physical therapist may not practice medicine or diagnose (q.v. Section 2051).
It is clear from a reading of these statutes and authorities that recognizing disease or other physical condition is a result of the making of a diagnosis, and that logically a disease or other physical condition cannot be treated without a diagnosis. Therefore, if a physical therapist encounters a patient whose condition has not been diagnosed by a diagnostician, he or she should not treat the same without advice as to the diagnosis of the patient's condition by a physician.
To conclude, the Physical Therapy Board of California concurs with the opinions of the Attorney General and staff counsel, which support that a physical therapist may practice without a physician's referral, provided that a diagnosis is obtained from a diagnostician.
Note: This document is not a declaratory opinion of the Physical Therapy Board of California.