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Accessing care: Do you need a referral to see a physiotherapist in Japan?

Medical systems can be difficult to navigate, particularly when you are in a foreign country. In this post we discuss whether or not a referral from a doctor is required to access our physiotherapy service. 

Physiotherapy (or physical therapy, depending on where in the world you are looking to access care) is considered an allied health service, meaning that we work with other health and medical providers. Physiotherapists are experts in both diagnosing the source of musculoskeletal pain, as well as identifying the possible cause(s) and formulating treatment plans. As much of our education is based around musculoskeletal medicine, we usually have a greater understanding of this area than medical doctors.

In clinical practice, doctors will often refer to physical therapists after a patient has presented to general medicine with a musculoskeletal complaint, has been deemed appropriate for rehabilitation by an orthopedic specialist, or is recovering from surgery. Likewise, physiotherapists will often refer to medical practitioners for imaging and other investigations, screening for possible serious pathologies, pharmacological management and or medical input regarding musculoskeletal conditions, and to orthopedic surgeons for surgical opinions.

In some parts of the world, particularly in the United States, a doctor’s referral was required to see a physical therapist. However, this is changing over time, and more physical therapists (depending on the state in which they operate), are able to consult on a first-contact basis. In countries such as Australia, physiotherapists have long operated as first contact practitioners, and in most cases, if someone sustains an injury or is experiencing musculoskeletal pain, they would typically see a physiotherapist first. 

In Japan, under the Japanese national health care system, a referral from a doctor is usually required. We, however, do not practice under the Japanese national health care system, and so these rules do not apply. If you are not claiming your physiotherapy treatment through an international health insurance provider, then there is no need to see a doctor first. However if you do intend to claim, you need to check with your insurance provider, as some may require a doctor’s referral to approve treatment. 

If you are unsure of the insurance implications and referral process for your particular situation, feel free to get in contact with us.


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