Neurology Reviews. 2016 November;24(11):8-9

HILTON HEAD, SC—Physicians sometimes order unnecessary medical tests and procedures for their patients, which results in wasteful spending and inappropriate care. Following medical associations’ practice recommendations, which have been collected by the Choosing Wisely initiative, can help physicians reduce waste in the health care system and provide appropriate treatment for patients, according to an overview presented at the 39th Annual Contemporary Clinical Neurology Symposium.

Avoiding Unnecessary Treatments and Tests

The American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation created the Choosing Wisely website to encourage dialogue between physicians and patients about the overuse of treatments and tests. An additional goal was to empower patients to make informed treatment decisions. More than 70 societies, including the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the American Headache Society, submitted recommendations to advise patients and clinicians about proper healthcare. “You can find a list of all the organizations that contributed on the Choosing Wisely website, and each one was asked to contribute five different topics for Choosing Wisely,” said Peter Donofrio, MD, Professor of Neurology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

The AAN recommends that clinicians not perform an EEG for headaches. In addition, the organization recommends that physicians not perform imaging of the carotid arteries for simple syncope without other neurologic symptoms. For patients with migraine, opioids or butalbital treatment should be a last resort. The AAN also recommends that doctors not prescribe interferon-beta or glatiramer acetate for patients with disability resulting from progressive, nonrelapsing forms of multiple sclerosis, because the drugs are ineffective. Finally, it advises doctors not to recommend carotid endarterectomy for asymptomatic carotid stenosis unless the complication rate from surgery is less than 3%.

The American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine recommends that physicians not perform MRI scans of the brain or spine for patients with peripheral neuropathy without signs of cerebral or spinal cord disease. In addition, the association discourages physicians from performing nerve conduction studies (NCSs) without a needle EMG for radiculopathy assessment. It also recommends that physicians not order or perform four-limb EMG/NCS testing for neck or back pain after trauma.

Treating Acute Low Back Pain and Headache

Other medical associations have made recommendations regarding the assessment and treatment of acute low back pain and headache. The North American Spine Society does not recommend advanced imaging of the spine within the first six weeks in patients with nonspecific acute low back pain in the absence of red flags.

The American Headache Society (AHS) recommends that physicians avoid advising prolonged or frequent use of over-the-counter pain medications for headache. The organization also discourages physicians from prescribing opioid or butalbital-containing medications as first-line treatment for recurrent headache disorders. Furthermore, it does not recommend surgical deactivation of migraine trigger points outside of a clinical trial. In addition, the society advises physicians not to perform CT imaging for headache when an MRI is available, except in emergency settings. The society also recommends that physicians should not perform neuroimaging studies for patients with stable headaches that meet migraine criteria.

When CT Scans Are Unnecessary in Children

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that CT scans and MRI scans are not necessary in a child with simple febrile seizure. The AAP also does not recommend CT scans for the immediate evaluation of minor head injuries; clinical observation and Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) criteria should be used to determine whether imaging is indicated.

Treating Insomnia and Sleep Disorders

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises doctors not to prescribe medication for childhood insomnia, which usually arises from parent–child interactions and responds to behavioral intervention. In addition, the academy does not recommend the use of hypnotics as a primary therapy for chronic insomnia in adults; instead, it advises physicians to offer cognitive behavioral therapy and reserve medication for adjunctive treatment when necessary. It recommends that a polysomnography be avoided in chronic insomnia unless symptoms suggest a comorbid sleep disorder. Additional Choosing Wisely recommendations are available at

—Erica Tricarico

Suggested Reading
Callaghan BC, De Lott LB, Kerber KA, et al. Neurology Choosing Wisely recommendations: 74 and growing. Neurol Clin Pract. 2015;5(5):439-447.

Langer-Gould AM, Anderson WE, Armstrong MJ, et al. The American Academy of Neurology’s top five choosing wisely recommendations. Neurology. 2013;81(11):1004-1011.

Loder E, Weisenbaum E, Fishberg B, et al. Choosing wisely in headache medicine: the American Headache Society’s list of five things physicians and patients should question. Headache. 2013;53(10):1651-1659.

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