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June 20, 2017

Telemedicine just as effective for headaches as a visit to the doctor

A study, published in Neurology, shows that telemedicine is just as effective when treating headache as a visit to the neurologist. The study was conducted in Norway, where mother nature prevents people from frequent traveling to hospitals. For them, using telemedicine could be a way to get treatment from a neurologist in the comfort of their own home.

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A headache. We all get them at some point in our lives. They may seem trivial to some, but tension-type headache, migraine and medication overuse headache are the three most prevalent neurologic disorders. Not everyone has the time and resources to travel to a licensed neurologist for treatment. The study, conducted by researchers from Norway, proves that telemedicine is just as effective as an in-person visit.

Telemedicine vs. traditional treatment

402 people with non-acute headaches participated in the non-inferiority study. All participants were asked to fill out a Headache Impact Test, a  visual analogue pain scale and a questionnaire about the impact of their headaches on their day-to-day life and the level of pain they were experiencing. 202 of them received treatment in a traditional manner with a neurologist at a hospital in northern Norway.

The other 200 were consulted through telemedicine. In both cases, neurologists (both authors of the study) checked the inclusion criteria, filled in the diagnostic checklist, performed a standardized interview without neurologic examinations, and completed the consultation.

Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire after three and twelve months, to monitor progress.

One year later

To secure the safety of the method, the researchers checked in with patients twelve months later. The goal of this assessment was to see if any patient had developed secondary headache, which is a symptom of a disease or another underlying condition. One secondary headache was identified in each group, proving there was no difference in the diagnosis and treatment. Headache patients consulted via telemedicine were followed-up in the same manner as those receiving traditional care as well. The researchers state that “telemedicine is as efficient and safe as traditional visits in long-term treatment outcome of nonacute headaches”.

The researchers do stress that the method shouldn’t be used when treating long-term patients. For those with non-acute headaches however, telemedicine is non-inferior to a traditional consultation regarding long-term treatment outcome and safety.

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