During the COVID-19 pandemic healthcare providers and patients began using telemedicine in numbers far greater than ever before. In an effort to reduce exposure to coronavirus, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) loosened some of the requirements for reimbursement for telehealth services, including telemedicine. Most insurance companies also began to provide coverage for video telemedicine visits. Some U.S. states also relaxed their requirements, at least temporarily, allowing – in some cases – providers who are not licensed in the state to provide telemedicine services to residents of the state. While some disciplines of medicine are likely better suited than others for telemedicine, migraine and headache treatment are among those in which telemedicine became widely utilized.
One of the reasons telemedicine is so important for people living with migraine is the improved access to migraine care it offers. Approximately 38 million Americans are living with migraine, and many do not have access to a headache specialist. There simply aren’t enough headache specialists, and those with a deep interest in treating migraine patients, to provide care to all of these people. In addition, barriers to care such as insurance coverage can make it difficult for patients to receive the appropriate treatment for migraine.
Many people living with migraine report feeling misunderstood by their doctor, and they have expressed they would like to work with a provider who is dedicated solely to migraine and headache treatment. The geographic limitations before telemedicine made seeing such a provider extremely difficult for many migraineurs. With the advent of telemedicine, access to quality care for migraine has improved immensely.
One of the questions that presents itself is, “Will telemedicine continue to be an option for patients with migraine in the future?” It is possible that insurance companies will continue to provide coverage for telemedicine visits, but it is also plausible that such coverage will be less than an in-office visit. The latter scenario could present a dilemma for patients and providers alike. It may be difficult for patients to travel to the provider’s office for the visit. It may also be challenging for the provider to accept lower payments for telemedicine visits. Certain advocacy groups, as well as some physician organizations, are encouraging the U.S. Congress to enact legislation securing the future of telemedicine reimbursement.
This past year at the Chicago Headache Center and Research Institute we conducted research into the use of telemedicine in migraine, and we hope to report our findings at headache conferences this year. Once this research about migraine and telemedicine has been reported, it will be shared here as well.