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Should GPs have direct access to imaging for headache? A qualitative study of patients’ views in the UK
  1. Alison McKinlay1,
  2. Raphael Underwood1,
  3. Gabriella Wojewodka1,
  4. Asif Mazumder2,
  5. Rachael Kilner3,
  6. Leone Ridsdale1
  1. 1 Department of Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, UK
  2. 2 Neuroradiology Group, Department of Radiology, Lambeth Wing, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  3. 3 Department of Neurology, King’s College Hospital, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Leone Ridsdale; leone.ridsdale{at}


Objective We aimed to describe patients’ views of a new referral pathway of general practitioner (GP) direct access to MRI, versus imaging after referral to a specialist.

Design This qualitative study involved 20 semistructured interviews. Twenty patients (10 from each pathway) were purposively recruited and interviewed to describe their attitudes.

Setting A neurology headache clinic and neuroradiology services from the boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth in South London, UK.

Participants Twenty patients were involved in this study.

Results Over half of the participants felt relieved once they received their scan results, while some remained uncertain about the underlying cause of their symptoms. Some participants described a long wait to see a specialist. Others described a long wait time to receive scan results, especially from their GP. Spontaneous reduction in headache symptoms occurred for some participants and for others, normal imaging results allowed them to focus more on symptom management.

Conclusion Relief was reported especially when scan results had been explained clearly and without too much delay. Those with continuing pain focused on how to get relief from symptoms. Patient experience might be improved with clearer information from GPs about how patients can access results, standard reporting procedures and closer liaison between neuroradiology and GPs.

  • headache
  • migraine
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • primary care
  • neurology
  • general practitioner

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  • Contributors The study design was conceived by LR, with input from AM and RK, and from a migraine user group charity. RU led on data collection. AMc and RU led on analysis of data. All authors contributed to the interpretation. AMc wrote the paper with LR and additional comments from RU, GW, AM and RK. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript. LR is the chief investigator.

  • Funding This research was supported by a grant from the Guy’s and St Thomas' Charity.

  • Disclaimer The views expressed in this manuscript are that of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the funders.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The Health Research Authority granted ethical approval (REC ref: 16/NW/0326 North West – Liverpool Central Research Ethics Committee).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No data are available.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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