Headaches Costing U.S. Healthcare $1 Billion in Brain Scans Every Year

headachesHeadaches can be debilitating and cause a patient to feel severe, overwhelming helpless. Although persons suffering from headaches might feel as though it is worthwhile to try every possible avenue to alleviate their pain, a new study released by the University of Michigan’s Medical School has found that the amount of patients per year that resort to having a brain scan, in an effort to stop their worsening headaches, is severely straining U.S. healthcare, costing a total of $1 billion per year.

What is even more interesting is that general guidelines for dealing with routine migraines or headaches discourages doctors from issuing CT and MRI’s for their patients. However, according the new study from Ann Arbor one out of every eight patients who visit a doctor for a migraine or headache consultation end up with a brain scan.

The research also posits that most of these scans are totally unnecessary as there is rarely any correlation between headaches and a serious issue being present in the persons’ brain. The research points out that several of the leading national guidelines given to doctors handling patients who complain of headaches do not suggest, and even discourage, the use of brain scans in these cases. Still, the amount of scans being performed per year is steadily rising. Many researchers believe that patient demand is driving this rise, as many sufferers want to exhaust all possible avenues that will alleviate their pain.

Published in the JAMA Internal Medicine publication, the team of neurologists who conducted this study are stressing the importance of patient education and even boldly suggest that insurance plans should require patients to pay part of the cost. In theory, the cost would be based on the likelihood that the operation would hold any value for the patients. Just how this cost basis would be organized was not elaborated upon.

Between the years 2007 and 2010 there were more than 51 million doctor visits that were for headaches. Almost half of these headaches were migraine related. More interesting is that the “vast majority” consisted of people who were younger than 65 and, even more overwhelming, more than 75 percent of the cases dealt with female patients. Of the total number of cases 12.4 percent ended in a CT or a brain MRI, leading to a total cost of $3.9 billion over the past four years for scans. The research was based upon “typical Medicare payments to doctors for imaging.”

Brian Callaghan, a neurologist at Michigan University who led the team involved in this study said that these numbers are really “conservative cost estimates.” He added that these cases mostly represent cases were brain imaging of this kind should rarely be used. He also added that this research shows a blatant source of costs that is returning a low health profit to users because the evidence does not justify brain imaging for headaches of this kind.

As new Americans begin fighting debilitating headaches, it will be worthwhile for health care professionals to monitor the rising cost of brain scans that are already costing U.S. healthcare $1 billion per year.

By Nick Manai

UofMhealth.org

NPR

Medical News Today

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