March 25, 2022

Vagus Nerve Stimulation Lowers Costs of Care for Children with Uncontrolled Epilepsy

Article published by ScienceDaily

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), sometimes referred to as a “pacemaker for the brain,” involves a stimulator device that is implanted under the skin in the chest, with a wire that is wound around the vagus nerve in the neck. It helps prevent seizures by sending regular, mild electrical pulses to the brain. Typically, the patient is not aware the device is operating.

A new study from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago published in the journal Epilepsia examined a population of pediatric patients with drug-resistant epilepsy. For these patients, the study found that the patients who received VNS, when used with anti-seizure medications (ASM), had lower hospital costs compared to the use of ASM alone. The study found that the patients treated with ASM plus VNS had savings of over $3,000 of epilepsy-related annual costs per year, compared to treatment with ASM only. These findings mirror the team’s previous report of children with drug-resistant epilepsy having significantly decreased inpatient healthcare utilization following VNS plus ASM compared to those treated with ASM alone. The study on healthcare utilization was published in Epilepsy & Behavior.

“We take a health services research perspective on the patients’ journey with a challenging disease process of drug-resistant epilepsy that has not been met with a cure. For patients with drug-resistant epilepsy, reducing seizure burden and addressing quality of life are important goals. We quantify aspects of outcomes of surgical therapies and medical therapies, and we assess the impact on health care costs and utilization. To the patients, families, health care systems, health care advocates, and policymakers, these are important results,” said senior author Sandi Lam, MD, MBA, Division Head of Neurosurgery at Lurie Children’s and Professor of Neurological Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “While we show lower costs to the health care system following VNS surgery, from a practical standpoint it means fewer hospital admissions because of seizures. Patients spend their days at home instead of in the hospital.”