Headaches are common among youth and are associated with significant negative outcomes. Despite advances in interdisciplinary treatments for youth with chronic pain, research suggests disparities in access to these services.
A total of 186 youth (M = 14.19 years old, 70.8% female) presenting to a neurology appointment at a children’s hospital system were screened using the Pediatric Pain Screening Tool (PPST), a brief, validated measure to identify youth that may benefit from additional pain management services.
Two-thirds of participants (n = 124, 66.7%) screened as medium or high risk on the PPST. Risk categorization did not vary by patient age or sex. A greater proportion of Hispanic/Latino patients were categorized as low-risk relative to non-Hispanic/Latino patients (55.6% vs. 30.1%), and a somewhat lower proportion of patients of color were categorized as medium-risk relative to White patients (14.0% vs. 30.5%). Three-quarters (n = 94, 75.8%) of patients who were screened as medium or high risk were not referred for any additional pain management services. Referrals did not vary by patient age or ethnicity. While not statistically significant, a lower proportion of males received referrals at both medium (8.3% vs. 17.6%) and high levels of risk (15.8% vs. 34.5%), and a greater proportion of youth of color who screened as medium risk received referrals relative to White youth categorized as medium risk (37.5% vs. 10.3%).
Future research should continue to explore factors influencing decision-making regarding referral to specialized pain management services for youth with headache.

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