Objective: To assess physician-patient communication about headache-related disability and to evaluate the influence of information about disability on physicians' perceptions of illness severity and the treatment needs of migraineurs.
Background: Evidence suggests that migraine is suboptimally treated in clinical practice, partly due to poor communication between physicians and their patients.
Methods: One hundred five neurologists and primary care physicians with an interest in headache participated in two interactive surveys, one in North America (n=42) and one in Europe (n=63). Each survey focused on the evaluation of four videotaped migraine cases. The first case was evaluated twice, initially after a typical symptom history that centered on diagnosis and then following a fuller history of migraine disability. Additional questions assessed the extent of the collection of migraine disability information in clinical practice.
Results: Physicians reported that they recorded symptoms relating to diagnosis (eg, pain location/intensity, associated symptoms) rather than information on headache-related disability. Only about one third of patients volunteered disability information. When made available to them, physicians rated information on disability as one of the most important factors in assessing treatment needs. In particular, when physicians knew the patient's disability history: (1) the proportion of physicians who rated the patient's illness as "severe" increased by 128% in North America, 27% in Europe; (2) the proportion of physicians who recommended immediate treatment increased by 63% in North America, 37% in Europe; and (3) the proportion of patients recommended for a follow-up visit increased by 15% in North America, 18% in Europe.
Conclusions: Physicians and patients often fail to discuss headache-related disability during consultation. This information has a powerful influence on physicians' perceptions of illness severity, treatment choice, and the need for follow-up. Tools to improve communication about headache-related disability, such as the Migraine Disability Assessment questionnaire, may favorably improve migraine management.