June 16, 2019

Need for Increased Formal Training for General Practitioners in Care of People with Epilepsy

Study of management and attitudes toward patients with epilepsy in general practice over past three decades


BACKGROUND: Previous surveys of Australian primary care physicians’ attitudes regarding epilepsy and persons with epilepsy (PWE), conducted 20-30 years ago, identified the need for further education in epilepsy care for frontline clinicians. This follow-up study of general practitioners (GPs) in Sydney was conducted to determine the degree of changes in knowledge, attitudes, and management of PWE, with the purpose of evaluating if there had been significant improvement during this period.

METHODS: A questionnaire, evaluating various aspects of epilepsy care, including investigations, preferred healthcare provider (HCP), and attitudes toward epilepsy was developed, largely based on the previous work, piloted, and completed by a representative sample of Sydney GPs.

RESULTS: A total of 52 completed responses were received. Thirty-six out of 47 GPs (77%) chose neurologists as the most important HCP followed by the GP (9/47; 18.7%). Almost half of the GPs (25/51; 49%) mentioned that they never initiated antiepileptic medication (AEM) therapy by themselves yet half of these GPs would alter the neurologist’s regimen, without necessitating referral back to that neurologist. Another 27% (14/51 GPs) rarely commenced AEM therapy. Six out of 50 GPs did not mention an electroencephalogram (EEG) as a routine investigation, and 21/50 did not mention magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as routine for PWE. The five most commonly used AEMs, identified by at least 10% of respondents, were sodium valproate (42), carbamazepine (37), levetiracetam (31), lamotrigine (16), and phenytoin (15). Emotional, behavioral, and psychosocial issues were perceived to be more common among PWE; however, they could contribute equally well to society as people without epilepsy.

CONCLUSION: The results of the study indicate a perceptual shift regarding general practitioner’s attitudes to epilepsy; however, there remain deficiencies in knowledge, particularly with regard to investigations and management. The study highlights the need for more formal training of general practitioners in caring for people with epilepsy.

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