Dr Ralph Thomas and colleagues from Western General Hospital in Edinburgh studied a group of GP practices in Tayside and North East Fife.
The practices were given direct access to brain scanning services in three local hospitals.
After the scans, GPs referred just 14% of patients to a neurologist because of headache. This suggests, the researchers said, that referrals to secondary care were reduced by 86%.
Writing in the British Journal of General Practice, Dr Thomas and colleagues concluded: ‘the results of this study suggest that open access scanning may give GPs more confidence in managing the small minority of patients for whom a normal scan will provide reassurance and prevent secondary referral.'