Our health-care system is at a tipping point on multiple levels and the next few years will not only shape our nation, we will determine how health care will be delivered in this country. According to the World Health Organization the US is ranked 37th in overall in delivery, efficiency and quality of health care. We are ranked 72nd in the world for how healthy our population is, and ranked 24th in life expectancy.

So many questions are unanswered. Will healthcare be affordable? Will we will continue with a competitive private market, a single-payer or some combination of the two? Beyond the business discussion is an even deeper question, is health care a right or an entitlement?

Regardless of your position on health care, we can all agree that access to health care is important. We need to be able to get in to see our doctors in a reasonable amount of time, and we need access to emergency care.

Currently many people use the emergency room for non-emergent conditions. This creates long waits, and costs significantly more. Urgent care centers have popped up everywhere which would seemingly take the pressure off emergency rooms; however, now many people use Urgent Cares as their primary care physicians. Why? Its faster. Urgent Cares offer the convenience of same-day service and later hours. It's worth paying the extra cash to get in the same day you want to be seen. These days, primary care physicians are caring for so many patients that when you are sick, you may not be able to get in to see them for several days.

One way to address this overload is to create more access points. For example we can now get our flu shot from our local pharmacists. This not only saves us time, it saves us the cost of our office copay.

There is another access point that many people don’t know about. Physical therapy! Direct access to physical therapy has been available in California since Jan 2014. Many people are still unaware that you can save time and money by directly seeing a physical therapist first for your muscle or joint aches, pains and injuries. In fact, research has shown that physical therapists are the best place to start if you have back or neck pain, want to avoid knee or shoulder surgeries, have osteoarthritis, have sprained your ankle, or have chronic pain.

I know many will still be skeptical as physical therapists can’t diagnose or order imagining. Well, as it is, many insurance companies won’t pay for additional imaging until patients have undergone and failed a conservative course of physical therapy.

Physical therapists are educated and trained in evaluating, assessing, and treating the musculoskeletal system. We are able to clinically test for injuries that may require additional imaging or tests. Many times after a thorough evaluation we will call your physician and get you in sooner.

Beyond quicker access, time and money saved, current research shows that the sooner you get to a physical therapist after experiencing pain or injury, the quicker and more complete your recovery.

The CDC also recognizes and recommends physical therapy as a safe alternative to opioid pain medications.

So next time you tweak your back or twist your knee, remember you can go directly to your physical therapist with the benefits of saving time, money and recovering more quickly.

Learn more about movement, fitness and health in this space each week or by visiting www.alliancehealthfresno.com, or calling 478-5833. Dr. Maria Fermoile is a Doctor of Physical Therapy at Alliance Health in Fresno. She will be happy to answer questions submitted to maria@alliancehealthfresno.com.