November 14, 2020

Examining the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the well-being and virtual care of patients with epilepsy

Abstract, originally published in Epilepsy & Behavior

Objective: The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) as a novel coronavirus resulted in a global pandemic that necessitated the implementation of social distancing measures. These public health measures may have affected the provision of care for patients with epilepsy. Social isolation may have also adversely affected well-being and quality of life due to informal and formal support networks becoming less accessible. The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the lived experiences of patients with epilepsy and to see how their quality of life and healthcare has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: From April 27 to May 15, 2020 we performed remote interviews with 18 participants who had virtual appointments with their healthcare providers and were enrolled in the Calgary Comprehensive Epilepsy Program registry. Interviews were recorded and transcribed, after which transcripts were analyzed and coded into relevant themes using NVivo 12.

Results: Three broad themes emerged throughout the interviews:1) impact of pandemic on informal and formal support systems; 2) impact of pandemic on healthcare provision; and 3) concerns about the impact of the pandemic on personal situations and society in the future. Participants reported anxiety and stress about decreased social engagement and activity cessations. Although face-to-face appointments were preferred, virtual care was well-received. Common concerns about the future included securing employment and burnout from balancing family responsibilities. Some patients also feared they would be stigmatized as society adapted to the situation.

Significance: This study highlights the need for additional research in anticipation of the implementation of remote medicine in the management and treatment of epilepsy. It also highlights the tenacity of those living with epilepsy during difficult periods despite social and familial pressures. Raising awareness during this time about the lives and experiences of epilepsy patients can help challenge misconceptions and stigma in the workplace and wider society.