Focus group findings on the migraine patient experience during research studies and ideas for future investigations

Mia T. Minen, Kaitlyn Morio, Kathryn Berlin Schaubhut, Scott W. Powers, Richard B. Lipton, Elizabeth Seng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Objectives: We conducted focus groups in people who had participated in mobile health (mHealth) studies of behavioral interventions for migraine to better understand: (a) Participant experience in the recruitment/enrollment process; (b) participant experience during the studies themselves; (c) ideas for improving participant experience for future studies. Methods: We conducted four focus groups in people who had agreed to participate in one of three studies involving mHealth and behavioral therapy for migraine. Inclusion criteria were being age 18–80, owning a smartphone, and having four or more headache days per month. All participants met the International Classification of Headache Disorders third edition beta version criteria for migraine. Exclusion criteria were not speaking English and having had behavioral therapy for migraine in the past year. Focus groups were audio recorded, fully transcribed and coded using general thematic analysis. Results: The 12 focus group participants had a mean age of 45 ± 15, a mean age of headache onset of 21 ± 13 and mean MIDAS disability score was 39 ± 56. Participants were women (100%), white (50%), Asian (33.3%) or members of other racial groups (16.7%). Certain themes emerged from each topic area. With regard to recruitment/enrollment (a), key themes were: (i) Participants joined their study out of an interest in research and/or a desire to try a new migraine treatment modality (behavioral therapy). (ii) Enrollment should be simple and study requirements should be carefully explained prior to enrollment. When asked about their experiences during the studies (b), the following themes emerged: (i) It is difficult to participate in study follow-up and compliance phone calls; (ii) participants prefer to choose from among various options for contact with the study team; (iii) there are barriers that limit app use related to migraine itself, as well as other barriers; (iv) completing diaries on a daily basis is challenging; (v) technical difficulties and uncertainties about app features limit use; (vi) being part of a research study promoted daily behavioral therapy use; (vii) progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is enjoyable, and has a positive impact on life; (viii) behavioral therapy was a preferred treatment to reduce migraine pain. Ideas for improving study design or patient experience (c) included: (i) Increased opportunity to interact with other people with migraine would be beneficial; (ii) navigating the app and data entry should be easier; (iii) more varied methods for viewing the data and measures of adherence are needed; (iv) more information on and more varied behavioral treatment modalities would be preferred. Conclusion: Though people with migraine are motivated to participate in mHealth and behavioral treatment studies, better communication up front about interventions as well as greater flexibility in interventions and follow-up methods are desired.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)712-734
Number of pages23
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Patient engagement
  • behavioral therapy
  • migraine
  • mobile health
  • qualitative research
  • smartphone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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