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A new study from researchers with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Regenstrief Institute is one of the first to explore the perceptions and preferences of both patients and their healthcare providers regarding the use of complementary and integrative medicine treatments in conjunction with mainstream medicine for chronic headache.

“We found that veterans with chronic headache were very interested in combining alternatives, such as acupuncture, massage, yoga or tai chi, with mainstream medicine and that they were encouraged by the fact that alternatives exist to simply taking additional pharmaceuticals for pain,” said study senior author Teresa Damush, PhD, research career scientist at with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) and research scientist at Regenstrief Institute. “While healthcare providers indicated a need to learn the scientific evidence for alternative therapies for chronic headache, they supported patient empowerment and typically encouraged patients who articulated an interest in alternative therapies.

“What we have learned from this study, which used semi-structured interviews to learn from stakeholders, is generalizable to other healthcare systems and settings, advancing understanding of how to improve the way we care for patients with chronic headache,” she said.

Dr. Damush is a research health psychologist and implementation scientist specializing in the design, implementation and evaluation of patient-centered programs in both primary and specialty care practices that empower the patient to modify controllable factors that may improve health-related quality of life.

Complementary medicine is the use of non-mainstream medical approaches together with conventional medical care. Integrative health combines conventional and complementary medicine in a coordinated manner.

Migraines affect one out of seven adults in the U.S. Approximately 12 percent of veterans, especially those who have been in combat, have a history of traumatic brain injury, or have been exposed to burn pits, may experience severe headaches impacting their quality of life and ability to function.

The researchers interviewed veterans and their healthcare providers at a dozen VA medical centers with a Headache Center of Excellence. National Director of the Headache Centers of Excellence program Jason Sico, M.D., a co-author, said, “one thing we have learned through Dr. Damush and the team’s paper is that complementary and integrative medicine approaches clearly resonates with veteran’s values and preferences.”

Complementary and integrative medicine perspectives among veteran patients and VHA healthcare providers for the treatment of headache disorders: a qualitative study” is published in the peer-reviewed open access journal BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies.

This work was supported by the Veterans Health Administration Headache Centers of Excellence, a growing nationwide program designed to improve care quality, delivery and access for veteran patients with headache disorders to healthcare providers with headache medicine expertise and to interdisciplinary headache care clinics.

Authors of the study, in addition to Dr. Damush and Dr. Sico, are Deena E Kuruvilla, M.D.; Hayley Lindsey, B.A.; Amy S. Grinberg, PhD; Roberta E. Goldman, PhD.; Samantha Riley, M.A.; Sean Baird, M.A. and Brenda T. Fenton, PhD, MSc, all of whom are affiliated with the VA Headache Centers of Excellence program.

About Teresa M. Damush, PhD

In addition to her role as a research scientist at Regenstrief, Teresa M. Damush, PhD, is a senior research professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine. She also serves as a senior investigator for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center for Health Information and Communication, Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center.

About Veteran Health Indiana and CHIC

The Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center is the flagship medical center for Veteran Health Indiana, the VA’s healthcare system in central and southern Indiana. The medical center is located in downtown Indianapolis, and is collocated with three large community hospitals and the campus of the Indiana University Schools of Medicine and Nursing. The health system has been serving Hoosier Veterans since 1932. As Indiana’s Level 1a, tertiary care Veteran facility, the medical center serves as home base for a system of inpatient and outpatient care locations serving more than 62,000 Veterans.

Located at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center, the VA Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D) Center for Health Information and Communication (CHIC) group is a diverse cadre of researchers based at Roudebush VA Medical Center who work together to transform the healthcare system, both within and outside the VA so every patient receives consistent, high-quality care.

About Regenstrief Institute

Founded in 1969 in Indianapolis, the Regenstrief Institute is a local, national and global leader dedicated to a world where better information empowers people to end disease and realize true health. A key research partner to Indiana University, Regenstrief and its research scientists are responsible for a growing number of major healthcare innovations and studies. Examples range from the development of global health information technology standards that enable the use and interoperability of electronic health records to improving patient-physician communications, to creating models of care that inform practice and improve the lives of patients around the globe.

Sam Regenstrief, a nationally successful entrepreneur from Connersville, Indiana, founded the institute with the goal of making healthcare more efficient and accessible for everyone. His vision continues to guide the institute’s research mission.

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