Objective.—To assess which aspects of referral care for headache are associated with improvement of pain and subjective quality of life.
Background.—In managed care, referrals to a specialist are sometimes kept to a minimum. It has been questioned whether patients with headache do better after consultation with a specialist.
Methods.—We mailed a questionnaire to all patients referred for headache to a neurologic center in northern Norway during a 2-year period (n = 1403). The questionnaire included items concerning diagnosis and treatment, along with simple visual analog scales to assess whether the patient's headache syndrome and self-perceived quality of life had changed after seeing the specialist.
Results.—There were 1052 responders (75%). Headache generally decreased after consultation with a specialist; it decreased significantly more in the 527 patients who were assigned a diagnosis compared to the 344 patients who claimed they were not. Reduction of headache also was significantly more obvious in the 483 patients who had treatment prescribed, as compared to the 385 patients not receiving any therapeutic measure. Self-perceived quality of life was generally improved, significantly more when the patient was given a diagnosis, and even when the diagnosis did not lead to treatment.
Conclusions.—Patients referred to a neurologic center for evaluation of headache generally experience a significantly greater improvement in their headache syndrome and quality of life. This appears particularly so when they receive a diagnosis, even if no treatment is prescribed.