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P075: Emergency physicians’ self-reported management of benign headache in Alberta emergency departments

  • L. Krebs (a1), C. Villa-Roel (a1), S. Couperthwaite (a1), M. Ospina (a1), B. Holroyd (a1) and B. Rowe (a1)...

Abstract

Introduction: Benign headache (BHA) management varies across emergency departments (EDs). This study documented current BHA management by Alberta emergency physicians (EP) in order to develop a provincial intervention to improve standardized practice. Methods: A convenience sample of Alberta EPs completed an online survey exploring their ED BHA management practices. Results are expressed as proportions. Results: A total of 73 EPs (73/192; 38%) who were mostly male (63%) and practiced emergency medicine for at least 15 years (51%) responded. EPs reported routine ED orders for metoclopramide (97%), ketorolac (90%) and IV fluids (85%) for patients with BHA showing no signs of pathological headache. For moderate-severe BHA's that did not improve with routine treatment, preferences were: IV narcotic (58%), IV dexamethasone (44%), and IV/IM dihydroergotamine (27%). Typically, EPs reported not ordering investigations for moderate-severe BHA presentations (88%); however, for those not improving the most common investigation was computed tomography (CT; 47%). CT ordering was associated with the following clinical scenarios: 1) not responding to traditional therapy and consulted to specialist (64%); 2) not responding to traditional therapy and being admitted (64%); 3) first presentation and afebrile (19%); 4) severe pain (11%); and 5) responding to traditional therapy and febrile (11%). One-quarter of EPs (27%) believed their patients usually or frequently expected a CT. Most EPs (60%) reported being completely or mostly comfortable discussing CT risks. Only 44% reported always or usually discussing risks prior to ordering. EPs reported that they were most frequently prevented from discussing risks because the patient was critically ill (42%) or because they believed explaining risks would not alter patient expectations (21%). These concerns were mirrored in the barriers EPs anticipated to limiting imaging, specifically the fear of missing a severe condition (62%), and patient expectation/request for imaging (48%). Conclusion: Self-reported treatment preferences for uncomplicated BHAs appear to be relatively consistent. Chart reviews could help assessing the reliability of self-reported BHA management practices. Perceived patient expectation appears to be an important influence on EP imaging ordering. Studies examining the communication between EPs and their patients are needed to explore how these expectations and perceived expectations are negotiated in the ED.

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