Telehealth for Headache Patients? New Study Shows Potential

It would probably be difficult to find a person who hadn’t, at one point in his or her life, suffered from headaches. Per World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, about 50 percent of adults worldwide currently have a headache disorder, with as many as four percent of people experiencing a headache 15 or more days each month. What’s more, the Global Burden of Disease Study found that, worldwide, migraines were the sixth highest cause of years lost due to disability. Now, a new study is shedding light on the potential that telemedicine has to connect patients suffering from headaches to neurologists, thus possibly eliminating the need for an office visit. As first reported in a press release from the American Academy of Neurologists (AAN), Norwegian researchers examined both a group of headache patients who had traditional in-person neurologist visits and another group that had telemedicine visits with a neurologist. The results? “For people with headache, seeing the neurologist by video for treatment may be as effective as an in-person visit,” the AAN press release notes of the study, published in the most recent issue of the journal Neurology.

The goal of the researchers, who are based at the Arctic University of Norway and who received support from the Northern Norway Regional Health Authority in conducting their study, was to demonstrate that, in cases when an in-office neurology consult might prove challenging for patients, telemedicine is a viable option. “New technology is available to diagnose and treat people through telemedicine, but few studies have looked at whether it is effective for people with headache,” explained study author Kai Müller, noting that many people struggling with headaches do not end up getting the treatment that they need. Participants included 402 patients suffering from “nonacute headaches,” or those that “came on gradually,” per AAN. While all of the patients visited a hospital for their treatment, half had in-person visits with a neurologist, while the other half had the consultation via telehealth. Before their visits, and again three months and one year after the visit’s conclusion, participants were asked to fill out questionnaires about the level of pain they were experiencing, as well as “the impact their headaches had on their daily life.”

Ultimately, the researchers “found no differences between telemedicine and traditional consultations” when it came to patients’ outcomes. In other words, “Telemedicine consultation for nonacute headache is as efficient and safe as a traditional consultation.” They also recommend further study, perhaps with a placebo group for comparison; Müller, too, notes that the fact that the entirety of the study was based in a hospital made it “less realistic.” Still, AAN, for its part, is optimistic about the findings, particularly given the potential to help headache patients in rural areas, as the hospital where the Norwegian study’s participants received treatment is located in a very remote part of the country. Said Müller, “Telemedicine may be valuable for people all over the world who are suffering with headaches and want to see a specialist without any extra hassle or inconvenience.”

Click here to read the press release from AAN on the Norwegian telemedicine study.

Click here to read the article from Neurology on the study of telemedicine for headache patients. 

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