Up to 151,000 Australians could benefit from these specialised clinics — are you one?

Posted 4 weeks ago by Georgie Waters
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People experiencing first seizures may attend emergency departments but researchers suggest that specialised clinics could provide more appropriate care. [Source: Shutterstock]
People experiencing first seizures may attend emergency departments but researchers suggest that specialised clinics could provide more appropriate care. [Source: Shutterstock]

Could opening more of these clinics reduce the strain on Australian’s healthcare system?

Key points:

  • Monash University researchers have identified the positive impact of first-seizure clinics in improved health outcomes for patients and reduced costs to the Australian healthcare system
  • Over 20,600 visits were made to emergency departments in Australia related to seizures between 2018 and 2019, according to the latest data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  • Legislation has also now been passed regarding epilepsy and social media, such as Zach’s Law in the United Kingdom on September 19, 2023

Researchers at Monash University have identified the positive impact of specific clinics for patients experiencing their first seizure rather than having them attend emergency departments. 

Over 20,600 visits to Australian emergency departments were related to epileptic symptoms between 2018 and 2019, according to the latest data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

While symptoms of a seizure can vary greatly between people, they may include stiff muscles, temporary confusion and uncontrollable jerking of the limbs, as per information available on the Mayo Clinic website.

However, having a first seizure does not result in a diagnosis of epilepsy. This diagnosis is reserved for people who experience recurrent seizures i.e. two or more. Around 151,000 Australians reported having epilepsy in the National Health Survey in 2017 – 2018, as reported by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2022.

While the causes of seizures are not always known, Cleveland Clinic highlights examples such as degenerative brain diseases, strokes, certain genetic disorders and brain tumours that may contribute to someone experiencing a seizure. 

The researchers acknowledged that while previous studies suggested that first seizure clinics may reduce wait times for diagnosis and treatment, this new study was conducted to determine why people may not attend first seizure clinics and if clinic attendance improved long-term health outcomes. 

Results indicated that patients who attended the first-seizure clinic within 14 days of their seizure were less likely to attend emergency departments or be admitted to the hospital at a later date.

Dr Emma Foster is one of the study’s authors, a neurologist, co-head of Alfred Health’s First Seizure Clinic and a Monash University School of Translational Medicine researcher. She elaborated on the importance of such a study and the positive implications that these results could have on the healthcare system.

“There are some really important future research directions that follow on from this. Firstly, these clinics are resource-intensive and only located in a handful of hospitals across Australia,” she said.

“Detailed health economic analyses are needed to understand if they are a cost-effective intervention. If [they are], that would support their widespread implementation both in Australia and internationally.

“[…] Secondly, this pilot study shows that attending [the] first-seizure clinic within 14 days of being referred significantly reduces the chance of future hospital attendances.”

However, Dr Foster clarified that while this study will benefit those considering first-seizure clinics, work is still required to determine other methods to assist people who have experienced a seizure for the first time.

“[…] Future studies need to identify and minimise the various barriers to first-seizure clinic attendance across our community.

“Future research should consider the personal impact of first seizures on people’s mood, work and quality of life. 

“This may raise awareness and perhaps support interventions to reduce this burden on individuals and their families,” said Dr Foster. 

Another of the study’s authors and adjunct research associate, Dr Yingtong Li agreed that the type of healthcare sought after a person’s first seizure could benefit the patient and reduce the strain on Australia’s healthcare system.

“The findings show that early intervention in patients with seizures, when delivered through first-seizure clinics, is highly effective and has the potential to change the trajectory of patients’ subsequent health, through the lens of their healthcare utilisation. 

“In Australia, acute seizure care is estimated to cost $340 million dollars annually. Our results suggest that approximately one-quarter of this, $85 million dollars, annually could possibly be avoided if all patients were able to attend a first-seizure clinic soon after their first event, accessing prompt, specialist care,” said Dr Li.

While attending specialised healthcare or emergency services may be required, knowing what to do for someone having a seizure could save their life. 

However, for people with epilepsy or another condition that may lead them to experience seizures, calling emergency services may not be strictly necessary. 

People at risk of seizures are advised to create an action plan, but if someone begins to have a seizure in public or you’re uncertain of their status, call for help. Do not attempt to ‘solve’ a seizure on your own when a person is convulsing.

In this Disability Support Guide, you can learn more about seizures and epilepsy, associated protocols and the potential causes. 

Legislation has also now been passed regarding epilepsy and social media, such as Zach’s Law in United Kingdom on September 19, 2023.

After three years of campaigning from the Epilepsy Society in the United Kingdom, a new law has passed the House of Commons and House of Lords, making it an official criminal offence to target someone with flashing images online.

At just eight years of age, Zach Eagling, a schoolboy with epilepsy and cerebral palsy, became one of the first victims of a nasty online attack from trolls that was designed to trigger a seizure.

To read more about Zach and his journey with epilepsy, read this article: Social media is under scrutiny following world-first epilepsy law.

 

Have you had a first seizure or have epilepsy? Where did you seek medical attention and how do you think this could be improved?

Let the team at Talking Disability know on social media. 

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