Wait Times for Headache Care Remain Long

It may not be a surprise to you that the wait for appropriate headache care can be long and frustrating. For every 76,000 individuals with migraine, there is approximately one certified headache specialist.

Organizations like the National Headache Foundation are working to certify more qualified physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other health care professionals to make finding quality care easier for patients. A group of researchers acknowledged the wait time for many patients and studied the potential impact of a headache education initiative for waiting patients.

“Successful management of headaches presents a challenge to both primary care providers and neurologists,” said the study’s authors: Ana Marissa Lagman-Bartolome, MD, FRCPC; Valerie Lawler, RN, APN; and, Christine Lay, MD, FRCPC, FAHS.

They focused their education initiative on an academic headache specialty center with an average wait time for a new appointment of 15 months. The Headache Education Active-Waiting Directive (HEAD) was developed and implemented in the clinic to educate patients and improve their ability to self-care while they awaited their first appointment.

Patients eligible for the study were between 18 and 65 years of age, referred to the clinic, but who had not been previously seen by a headache specialist. Data was collected before and after the program on Migraine Disability Assessment (MIDAS) forms, emergency department visits, lifestyle, and ability to self-care.

Prior to the educational program, most eligible patients were overusing over-the-counter medications and were not on a preventative treatment.

After attending the 90-minute educational program where patients learned about headache types, triggers, treatment options, lifestyle modifications, medication overuse, and more, the study found a decrease in many crucial numbers. The average MIDAS score went from 50 to 43.2 and the number of patients needing to visit the emergency department decreased. There was also a significant decrease in medication and narcotic overuse.

According to the researchers, the HEAD program helped manage lengthy appointment wait times.

“Education empowers patients to take an active role in their care, especially in regards to improving treatment timing and modifiable lifestyle behaviors,” the study said.

The study was published in the January 2018 edition of Headache.

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