Conference Coverage

Which migraineurs seek care from a neurologist?



A surprisingly large number of patients with migraine who first seek care for migraine in a primary care setting receive an initial migraine diagnosis from a neurologist, said Alice R. Pressman, PhD at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society.

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Dr. Pressman, executive director of research, development, and dissemination for Sutter Health, and her research colleagues analyzed data from primary care patients who sought care for migraine in the Sutter Health healthcare network in Northern California. They found that women were 10% more likely than men to consult a neurologist and that Asian patients had a longer time to a first neurology encounter for migraine, compared with Caucasian patients.

“Those who sought care from neurology had more severe migraine symptomology, disability, and comorbidities,” the researchers reported. Furthermore, patients with migraine seen by neurologists were more likely to receive prescriptions for acute and preventive migraine medications, compared with patients only seen by primary care physicians.

The study, known as the Migraine Signature Study, used electronic health records (EHR) and patient-reported questionnaire data to examine the clinical experiences and care of patients with migraine.

The primary care population consisted of 1.4 million adults with at least one office visit to primary care in 2013-2017. Using the validated Migraine Probability Algorithm, the researchers identified approximately 94,000 patients who sought care for migraine.

The investigators also invited 38,536 patients to complete an online survey about migraine criteria, symptomology, health resource utilization, and patient-reported outcomes such as disability, acute treatment optimization, cutaneous allodynia, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Of the patients who sought care for migraine, 72,624 patients did not receive migraine care from neurology, and 21,525 did.

Patients with migraine care from a neurologist were more likely to have at least one acute migraine medication order (89.4% vs. 80.6%), at least one preventive migraine medication order (78.6% vs. 49.1%), and any migraine medication order (95.3% vs. 85.9%). In addition, those with at least one medication order in the primary care setting had fewer orders per person per year, compared with those with at least one medication order in the neurology setting (1.1 vs. 1.6).

About one-third of the patients who sought care for migraine had no migraine encounters in the first 12 months of the study. Of the more than 33,000 patients with first migraine consults, approximately two-thirds did not receive a neurology consultation during the study and received their migraine diagnosis in the primary care setting.

Of the 31% of patients with first migraine consults in primary care who later had a neurology consult, two-thirds received a migraine diagnosis from neurology. “The high rate of initial migraine diagnosis within neurology was surprising among this sample with primary care encounters first,” the researchers said.

The investigators also examined patient-reported outcomes from 391 respondents who received migraine care from neurology and 399 respondents who received migraine care from primary care. “Patients who consulted a neurologist were likely to report moderate-to-severe disability, poor acute treatment optimization, and major depression,” they said. “Allodynia, anxiety, and PTSD did not differ by type of provider.”

Confounding may have influenced the results, and the researchers plan to assess factors such as headache frequency and severity using patient-reported survey data in future analyses.

The Migraine Signature Study was supported by Amgen, Inc.

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