Physiotherapists are university trained medical professionals and primary care practitioners. This means that you have direct access to physiotherapy without a doctor's referral.
In some circumstances, such as publicly funded community physiotherapy clinics, or certain extended health plans, a doctor or nurse practitioner referral is required to access funding. Consult your insurance provider to learn whether a referral is needed in your specific case prior to commencing treatment.
Seeing a Physiotherapist
There are five main treatment routes:
- Physiotherapy clinics - privately funded: By contacting a private clinic in your community, you can access immediate care. Private clinic visits are also an immediate option for those on hospital out-patient waitlists as they await access to care.
- Home visits - privately funded: By contacting a private physiotherapist who offers home visits, you can access immediate care. Private home visits are also an immediate option for those on hospital out-patient waitlists as they await access to care, and also for those with mobility issues.
- Hospitals (In-patient services and out-patient services) - publicly funded:
Physiotherapy in hospitals may be provided to inpatients staying in hospital or in an outpatient clinic. Many outpatient clinics provide rehabilitation programs for people who, for example, have had surgery, or are recovering from strokes or heart attacks. Not all hospitals in BC have outpatient services that will meet your specific needs. Although treatment is publicly funded, there may be additional charges for supplies such as splints and dressings.
An inpatient is a patient who stays in a hospital while under treatment.
An outpatient is a patient who receives medical treatment without being admitted to a hospital. Patients who have been discharged from the hospital are also regarded as outpatients.
Consult your local hospital to learn about the physiotherapy services available in your area. Or visit the BC Ministry of Health website to contact your local health authority.
- Home Health, Home Care - publicly funded:
Home-based physiotherapy services are available to support early discharge from a hospital or to avoid going to a hospital or care facility. Home Health supports individuals and families to self manage, and targets post-surgical care, older adults with declining mobility, and those at end-of-life. Limited physiotherapy service is available and eligibility criteria apply.
To see if you qualify, contact the Home Health/Home Care program at your health authority. Visit the BC Ministry of Health website to find your health authority. Some physiotherapists provide home-based physiotherapy privately. See "Accessing Physiotherapy - Home Visits".
- Paediatric services - publicly and privately funded
Children and youth in BC who have, or are at risk of developmental delay or disability are eligible for publicly funded physiotherapy services in their community. Anyone may refer a child to an Early Intervention Therapy Program (0-5 years of age) or School-Aged Therapy Program. For more information on how to access these services in your community, or to find a physiotherapist through each of these programs, visit the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development website.
There are also private clinics and community-based therapists that specialize in working with children with a range of mobility concerns (e.g. sports injuries, motor delays). Fees are set individually.
On January 1, 2002, physiotherapy was de-listed by the government from the British Columbia Medical Services Plan (MSP), meaning that the majority of people in BC must pay for physiotherapy through extended health benefits, their own money, or a combination of the two.
However, according to a 2012 nationwide survey, over three quarters of British Columbians have supplementary health benefits from group insurance plans that include physiotherapy1. Coverage can range from $200 to $500 per person, per year2, and up to $750 for some plans3. Low-income people receive additional coverage through MSP supplementary benefits.
Clinic fees reflect the time spent directly with the physiotherapist. Fees are set individually and vary depending on the length of direct physiotherapist time (generally 20-60 min) and the treatment needed. Cost per visit generally fall between $63 and $190.
*http://www.healthcoalitionab.ca/PDF/reports-studies/CMA-Benefits-Research-Survey_en.pdf (Ipsos Reid Survey, June 2012 - Supplementary Health Benefits Research Final Report June 2012 Commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Health Sciences Research Foundation, and the Institute of Health Economics, Alberta Canada) - page 13. Last accessed Sept 3 2015.
**True Benefits. How Much Do Employee Benefits Cost? http://www.truebenefits.ca/news/how-much-do-employee-benefits-cost. Last accessed Sept 3 2015.
***UBC. Extended Health Benefits. http://www.hr.ubc.ca/benefits/extended-health/. Last accessed Sept 3 2015.
The user fee is the cost difference that a clinic charges patients when third party payer/insurer rates are below the clinic fee. The user fee plus the insurer rate reflects the total cost of the visit.
Examples of third party payers: ICBC, MSP, WorkSafeBC.