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Telehealth perceptions and utilization for the delivery of headache care before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: A mixed-methods study.

Grinberg AS, Fenton BT, Wang K, Lindsey H, Goldman RE, Baird S, Riley S, Burrone L, Seng EK, Damush TM, Sico JJ. Telehealth perceptions and utilization for the delivery of headache care before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: A mixed-methods study. Headache. 2022 May 1; 62(5):613-623.

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OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to evaluate the utilization of telehealth for headache services within the Veterans Health Administration''s facilities housing a Headache Centers of Excellence and multiple stakeholder''s perspectives to inform future telehealth delivery. BACKGROUND: Telehealth delivery of headache treatment may enhance patient access to headache care, yet little is known about the utilization or patient and provider perceptions of telehealth for veterans with headache. METHODS: This mixed-methods study analyzed multiple data sources: (1) administrative data, which included 58,798 patients with medically diagnosed headache disorders, documented in at least one outpatient visit, from August 2019 through September 2020 from the 12 Veterans Health Administration''s facilities with a Headache Center of Excellence and (2) qualitative semistructured interviews with 20 patients and 43 providers 6 months before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and 10 patients and 20 providers 6 months during the beginning of the pandemic. RESULTS: During the pandemic, in-person visits declined from 12,794 to 6099 (52.0%), whereas video (incidence rate ratio [IRR]  =  2.05, 95% confidence interval [CI]  =  1.66, 2.52), and telephone visits (IRR  =  15.2, 95% CI  =  10.7, 21.6) significantly increased. Utilization differed based on patient age, race/ethnicity, and rurality. Patients and providers perceived value in using telehealth, yet had limited experience with this modality pre-pandemic. Providers preferred in-person appointments for initial encounters and telehealth for follow-up visits. Providers and patients identified benefits and challenges of telehealth delivery, often relying on multiple delivery methods for telehealth to enhance patient engagement. CONCLUSIONS: The uptake of telehealth delivery of headache-related care rapidly expanded in response to the pandemic. Patients and providers were amenable to utilizing telehealth, yet also experienced technological barriers. To encourage equitable access to telehealth and direct resources to those in need, it is crucial to understand patient preferences regarding in-person versus telehealth visits and identify patient groups who face barriers to access.

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