Telemedicine is effective to treat headache patients

We often get requests for a telephone consultation from patients who live too far to come in for a visit. Unfortunately, insurance companies do not cover telephone or video-link consultations. An additional obstacle in the US is that doctors cannot treat patients outside the state where they are licensed because each state licenses their own doctors. If patients can afford to pay, we do offer follow-up telephone consultations to patients who live out of state or abroad and who were first seen in our office.

A group of Norwegian researchers examined how safe and effective it is to treat patients without seeing them in person by using a video link. The results of their study was published in a recent issue of the journal Neurology. They compared 3 and 12 month outcomes after a single consultation in 200 patients using telemedicine with 202 patients seen in the office. All patients were referred by their primary care doctor. They included only patients with non-acute headaches, that is those whose headaches started gradually more than 4 weeks prior to the visit and showed no clinical or MRI abnormalities. Doctors ordered about the same number of MRI scans in both group (58 and 62). Over the subsequent year a serious underlying cause was found in one patient in each group. Treatment outcomes after 1 year were the same in both group, although in both groups the improvement in headache severity and its impact on the daily life was modest. There was a high level of satisfaction with the consultation in both groups.

The main shortcoming of the study is that every patient completed a variety of questionnaires and had a much more detailed evaluation than you’d expect in a non-study setting. The study suggests that a single consultation may not be sufficient to provide an optimal outcome. Also, while over 40% of patients had chronic migraines, obviously none could be treated with Botox, which is the only FDA-approved treatment for chronic migraines.

In conclusion, consultation via telemedicine is a viable option for patients in areas without headache specialists.

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