In mid March the Washington State Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Columbia Physical Therapy versus Benton Franklin Orthopedic Associates (sometimes referred to as the Richard Wright case), according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Alexandria, Va.
The Court unanimously ruled in favor of a practice owned by medical doctors (MDs) in a lawsuit challenging its right to employ physical therapists (PTs) to whom the MDs refer patients. The challenge was brought by Columbia Physical Therapy Inc (Columbia), a PT-owned professional service corporation, against Benton Franklin Orthopedic Associates, PLLC (BFOA), a professional limited liability company owned by MDs.
APTA, the Washington Chapter and its Private Practice Special Interest Group, the Private Practice Section, and individual members and PT practices all supported Columbia’s lawsuit. Both APTA and the Washington Chapter filed amicus curiae briefs with the Washington Supreme Court supporting Columbia.
APTA and the Washington Chapter report that they are disappointed with the result in the Columbia case. Although the Court’s opinion obviously is adverse to APTA’s efforts to minimize referral for profit, the precedent is binding only in the state of Washington, says the organization.
In addition, the Court’s opinion does not negate the studies and research that show physician ownership of physical therapist services (POPTS) leads to higher costs, increased utilization, and decreased patient choice. The Court said that it would be an unfair and deceptive practice under Washington’s consumer protection statute for a referring physician to tell patients that they can receive physical therapy only from a PT clinic in which the referring physician has an ownership interest.