Headache service quality evaluation: implementation of quality indicators in primary care in Europe

B. Lenz, Z. Katsarava (Coresponding Author), R. Gil-Gouveia, G. Karelis, B. Kaynarkaya, L. Meksa, E. Oliveira, F. Palavra, I. Rosendo, M. Sahin, B. Silva, D. Uludüz, Y. Z. Ural, I. Varsberga-Apsite, S. T. Zengin, L. Zvaune, T. J. Steiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Lifting The Burden (LTB) and European Headache Federation (EHF) have developed a set of headache service quality indicators, successfully tested in specialist headache centres. Their intended application includes all levels of care. Here we assess their implementation in primary care. Methods: We included 28 primary-care clinics in Germany (4), Turkey (4), Latvia (5) and Portugal (15). To implement the indicators, we interviewed 111 doctors, 92 nurses and medical assistants, 70 secretaries, 27 service managers and 493 patients, using the questionnaires developed by LTB and EHF. In addition, we evaluated 675 patients’ records. Enquiries were in nine domains: diagnosis, individualized management, referral pathways, patient education and reassurance, convenience and comfort, patient satisfaction, equity and efficiency of headache care, outcome assessment and safety. Results: The principal finding was that Implementation proved feasible and practical in primary care. In the process, we identified significant quality deficits. Almost everywhere, histories of headache, especially temporal profiles, were captured and/or assessed inaccurately. A substantial proportion (20%) of patients received non-specific ICD codes such as R51 (“headache”) rather than specific headache diagnoses. Headache-related disability and quality of life were not part of routine clinical enquiry. Headache diaries and calendars were not in use. Waiting times were long (e.g., about 60 min in Germany). Nevertheless, most patients (> 85%) expressed satisfaction with their care. Almost all the participating clinics provided equitable and easy access to treatment, and follow-up for most headache patients, without unnecessary barriers. Conclusions: The study demonstrated that headache service quality indicators can be used in primary care, proving both practical and fit for purpose. It also uncovered quality deficits leading to suboptimal treatment, often due to a lack of knowledge among the general practitioners. There were failures of process also. These findings signal the need for additional training in headache diagnosis and management in primary care, where most headache patients are necessarily treated. More generally, they underline the importance of headache service quality evaluation in primary care, not only to identify-quality failings but also to guide improvements. This study also demonstrated that patients’ satisfaction is not, on its own, a good indicator of service quality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
JournalJournal of Headache and Pain
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Global campaign against headache
  • Headache care
  • Headache disorders
  • Primary care
  • Quality indicators
  • Service quality evaluation

Field of Science*

  • 3.2 Clinical medicine

Publication Type*

  • 1.1. Scientific article indexed in Web of Science and/or Scopus database


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