A neurologist can safely evaluate a patient’s headaches using telemedicine, according to research published recently in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). The non-inferiority study found that patients who used teleneurology had the same outcomes as patients who visited a neurologist in-person.
Conducted in Norway, the study randomly assigned 402 patients with non-acute headaches to in-office visits or telemedicine visits. At 3 and 12 months after the initial consult, there was no significant difference between Headache Impact Test-6 (HIT-6) scores and Visual Analog Pain Scale (VAS) scores of the in-person group as compared to the telemedicine group.
As described by the researchers, Norway has many sparsely populated areas, often requiring patients to travel by plane or boat to see a doctor; telemedicine offers an alternative that would make neurologists more accessible and convenient. The study results show that a telemedicine consultation for a non-acute headache is as safe and efficient as a traditional, in-office consultation, the researchers concluded.
However, others caution against embracing telemedicine for everyone, citing the importance of subtle secondary cues in diagnosis. These physicians suggest that a patient’s preference and experience, as well as the medical appropriateness, should be considered when deciding whether to perform a telemedicine consult.
The authors admitted that having patients come to the hospital regardless of whether they used telemedicine or traditional visits constituted unrealistic study conditions. In addition, there was no placebo group or blinding, but these would be challenging to implement.