Telemedicine as effective as in-person visit for headaches

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Persistent headaches can require a visit to a neurologist, but long wait times and limited access prevents many patients from receiving attention. With telemedicine, patients are able to communicate with neurology specialists from their home.

A study published in Neurology tests telemedicine in its ability to treat headache patients when compared to conventional visits. Reaching a neurologist is especially difficult for rural or elderly populations. Telemedicine, paired with diagnostic technology, can treat patients in their homes.

"Headache is the most common neurologic disorder, yet is often not diagnosed or people don't receive adequate treatment," said study author Kai I. Müller, MD, of the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. "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."

The study included 402 patients who had been referred to a neurologist from their primary care physicians with non-acute headaches. Participants were split into a control group attending traditional office visits and another meeting a neurologist through video conferences. All participants completed a questionnaire on the impact the headache had on their daily lives and the level of pain at baseline and then three months and a year after the study.

Results showed that there were no differences in quality of care between telemedicine and in-person visits. In analyzing the safety of using telemedicine on patients with secondary headaches, those due to an underlying condition, researchers estimated that only one of every 20,200 consultations would miss a diagnosis.

"We wanted to make sure that the neurologists were not missing any underlying diseases that were causing the headaches when they were treating people via telemedicine, but there was only one person in each group who had a secondary headache, so there was no difference in the diagnosis and treatment," Müller said. “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."