Disparities in pediatric drug-resistant epilepsy care

Melissa A. LoPresti, Lu Zhang, Sandi Lam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Epilepsy affects millions of children worldwide, with 20–40% experiencing drug-resistant epilepsy (DRE) who are recommended for epilepsy surgery evaluation and may benefit from surgical management. However, many patients live with DRE for multiple years prior to surgical epilepsy referral or treatment or are never referred at all. Objective: We aimed to describe factors associated with referral for epilepsy surgery in the USA, in order to identify disparities in DRE, characterize why they may exist, and recognize areas for improvement. Methods: Pediatric patients diagnosed with DRE between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2020 were identified from the Pediatric Health Information System (PHIS) Database. Patients treated with antiseizure medications (ASMs) only, ASMs plus vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), and ASMs plus cranial epilepsy surgery were studied regarding access to epilepsy surgery and disparities in care. This study used chi-square tests to determine associations between treatment time and preoperative factors. Preoperative factors studied included epilepsy treatment type, age, sex, race/ethnicity, insurance type, geographic region, patient type, epilepsy type, and presence of pediatric complex chronic conditions (PCCCs). Results: A total of 18,292 patients were identified; 10,240 treated with ASMs, 5019 treated with ASMs + VNS, and 3033 treated with ASMs + cranial epilepsy surgery. Sex was not found to significantly vary among groups. There was significant variation in age, census region, race/ethnicity, patient type, presence of PCCCs, diagnosis, and insurance (p < 0.001). Those treated surgically, either with VNS or cranial epilepsy surgery, were 2 years older than those medically treated. Additionally, those medically treated were less likely to be living in the Midwest (25.46%), identified as non-Hispanic white (51.78%), have a focal/partial epilepsy diagnosis (8.74%), and be privately insured (35.82%). Conclusions: We studied a large administrative US database examining variables associated with surgical epilepsy evaluation and management. We found significant variation in treatment associated with age, US census region, race/ethnicity, patient type, presence of PCCCs, diagnosis, and health insurance type. We believe that these disparities in care are related to access and social determinants of health, and we encourage focused outreach strategies to mitigate these disparities to broaden access and improve outcomes in children in the USA with DRE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalChild's Nervous System
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Disparities
  • Epilepsy
  • Pediatric
  • Surgical epilepsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Clinical Neurology


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