Chronic daily headache is a major healthcare problem, with significant resource implications for specialist services. Since 1999, GPs in Greater Glasgow have had direct access to computerised tomography (CT) for investigation of chronic daily headache.
The purpose of this study is to assess the significance of pathology, impact of the service, and GP satisfaction.
The direct-access CT findings in patients between 1999 and 2007 were reviewed. Radiological reports were reviewed for abnormal findings by a radiologist. A neurologist reviewed those cases with abnormalities to assess their potential causation in presenting symptoms. A questionnaire was sent to the referring GP for every patient referred for direct-access CT. Data from the Information Services Division of NHS National Services Scotland was used to estimate potential cost benefits.
A total of 4404 CT scans were performed. Abnormal findings were reported in 461 (10.5%), and the reported abnormalities were considered a potential causative factor for the presenting symptoms in 60 patients (1.4%). Other abnormalities mostly resulted from established cerebrovascular disease and atrophy; 986 GP questionnaires were analysed. The major body of GP opinion (n = 460, 47%) indicated that direct-access CT was their preferred choice for referral of chronic daily headache. If direct-access CT was not available, neurology (n = 448, 45%) and general medicine (n = 379, 38%) would be the commonest referral choices. This study also reveals that 86% did not require further specialist referral. Projecting the GP questionnaire data to the study group gave an approximate cost saving of at least £86 681.81.
Direct-access CT is now the preferred choice of management for patients with chronic daily headache in primary care. Patients and GPs are reassured by a normal scan in the majority of cases. There may be cost savings, although confirmation of cost-effectiveness would require further study.