How Physicians Advocate for the Headache Medicine Community

AHS members share their methods for spreading awareness and discuss how advocacy benefits patients and other physicians

In honor of Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, we wanted to shine the spotlight on how our healthcare providers and researchers work every day to advocate for the headache medicine community.

“Advocacy is an extremely broad and elastic term,” says Robert Shapiro, MD, PhD, FAHS, “It runs the gamut from raising awareness on one’s behalf, or on behalf of others who can’t adequately speak for themselves, to directly applying the raised awareness to make specific changes.”

Patient advocacy can look different from person to person. But Chair of the Society’s Advocacy Committee Amaal Starling, MD, FAHS, believes that physicians have an important role in supporting the migraine community. “As physicians, it is our ethical duty to participate in advocacy. Physicians can participate in advocacy by prescribing it to their patients, as well as through education of trainees and other physicians and by working with different organizations.”

Putting Patients First

Many AHS members chose to specialize in headache medicine because they recognized the need for greater access to effective care, so it’s no surprise that many view advocating for their patients as a vital part of their practice. “The greatest part of my job is being able to be so close to the patients I take care of, to hear what they need and do my best to try to meet those needs in whatever way I can,” says Jessica Ailani, MD, FAHS.

For Emily Law, PhD, advocacy means fighting for her patients “to have access to the best possible treatment, to improve their quality of life and help them live the life that they want to have.”

Of course, advocacy may look different every day. It can be talking with hospital administrators to deliver assessments and treatment services to patient. It can also be going to Capitol Hill to stand up for increased federal funding for headache research. But advocacy always revolves around putting the patient first.

Advocacy through education and research

For Rebecca Burch, MD, FAHS, advocacy revolves around education. “As a headache doctor and a headache educator, I’m really interested in educating primary care doctors and general neurologists about how to treat headache, how to recognize headache and how best to take care of their patients.”

Research plays an important role in improving the public’s awareness of headache and in increasing the standard of care that physicians can provide to their patients. Jennifer Hranilovich, MD, divides her time equally between seeing patients and advancing research into headache disorders. She explains, “Migraine advocacy is the research that I do. It’s getting the word out there that migraine is an actual neurologic disease that results from change in function of the brain and the cells of the brain.”

Andrew Hershey, MD, PhD, FAHS, agrees, stressing the importance of increased research funding for scientists. He also supported increased understanding of migraine as a disease. He hopes that research can help the community progress from just treating the disease and help physicians “understand the cause, so we can intervene as early as possible.”

Prescribing Advocacy, Empowering Patients

Dr. Burch’s focus on physician education is also evident in the way she treats her patients. She wants her patients to feel empowered and give them more control over their own condition, body and treatment plan.

Dr. Starling champions patient empowerment, urging physicians to “prescribe advocacy” to their patients. “It’s very important for that individual because you’re basically stealing away the power of the disease and handing it to the patient,” she says. Maureen Moriarty, DNP, FAHS will actually provide patients a prescription to advocate for themselves. “For example, if they have a really complicated lifestyle, I will write, you need to take 15 minutes a day for yourself,” she says.

Maintaining Momentum

Years of advocacy has helped pave the way for increased awareness and better treatments for patients. Dr. Ailani credits “patients speaking up” and “clinicians having a voice” for the advancement of new therapeutic options for migraine relief. She urges the community to help keep this momentum going, whether it’s by raising awareness or educating others. Similarly, Dr. Law says, “The only way we’re going to be able to move the ball forward, is to help people around us understand what an important public health problem this is.”

From seeing their patients to sharing their knowledge with trainees and residents, physicians are practicing advocacy on a daily basis. The impact of this advocacy is far-reaching. We’ve seen increased awareness throughout the population and improved standards of care for patients. The American Headache Society would like to thank all its members for doing their part to move the needle forward. Additionally, our members helped us achieve our mission of improving the care and lives of people living with headache disorders.

The American Headache Society is always seeking new members to join its ranks as it looks to gain a better understanding of headache and face pain. Become a member today to see what AHS has to offer for those involved in headache treatment and research.

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