Background.—No information exists regarding the contribution of patient-related telephone calls to the burden of headache practice.
Objective.—To identify the nature and volume of patient-related telephone calls to a specialty headache practice over a 1-month period.
Design and Methods.—The characteristics of all patient-related calls to a single headache practitioner occurring during July 2001 were documented. Information was obtained on the caller, reason for call, length of call, timing and day of call, stated importance of call, patient's principal headache diagnosis, and principal comorbid psychiatric disorder, if any.
Results.—One hundred sixty-five outpatient headache-related calls were received in July 2001, 3.17 for every hour of headache clinic scheduled. A total of 65% of all calls was generated by just 36% of callers. Of the 32 patients who placed more than one call during the study period, 50% had chronic daily headache, 53% had a personality disorder, and 38% had both. Twenty-seven percent of all calls were placed by someone other than the patient, 58% involved requests for medication refills, and 17% reported a new symptom or medication side effect. Over half of all calls were placed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Relatively few occurred outside work hours; 18% of calls characterized as “emergency” and 36% of calls characterized as urgent involved requests for controlled substances. Most of these calls were placed by patients with personality disorders. None of the 11 calls characterized as emergency calls was judged so by the physician; only 19% of the urgent calls were judged so by the physician.
Conclusions.—Telephone calls contribute substantially to the burden of caring for patients in a specialty headache practice. Patients with chronic daily headache and personality disorders contribute disproportionately to this telephone burden. Efforts to identify such patients at presentation and educate them regarding appropriate telephone use seem to be warranted.