Direct GP referral for brain MRI may lead to cost-savings and quicker access to care, but patient satisfaction levels are lower when compared with referral to neurology services, according to a research published in BMJ Open.
The single-centre, prospective, observational study compared two clinical pathways in the management of patients with chronic headache: GP referral to the neurology department (neurology group) or directly for a brain MRI (MRI group). No change to clinical practice was involved.
Participants’ use of health care services and costs were estimated using primary and secondary care databases and questionnaires quarterly up to 12 months post-recruitment. Cost analyses were compared using generalised linear models. Secondary outcomes assessed were: access to care, patient satisfaction, headache burden and self-perceived quality of life using the headache-specific (Migraine Disability Assessment Scale and Headache Impact Test) and the 5-level EQ-5D questionnaires.
Data analysis suggested that the mean (standard deviation) cost at six months post-recruitment per participant was £578 (£420) for the neurology group (n=128) and £245 (£172) for the MRI group (n=95), leading to an estimated mean cost difference of £333 (95% CI £253-£413; P<.001 the mean cost difference at months increased to ci class="">£401-£637; P<.001 when adjusted for baseline and follow-up imbalances between groups this remained statistically significant.>
The utilisation of brain MRI improved access to care compared with the neurology group (P<.001 however participants in the neurology group reported higher levels of satisfaction.>
This was a single-centre study with participants recruited from one central hospital in London.