This study aimed to evaluate the efficacy, adverse events and expense burden of outpatient versus remote programming for vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) in children with epilepsy.
A total of 46 children with drug-resistant epilepsy, who underwent VNS at the Pediatric Epilepsy Center, Peking University First Hospital between March 2017 and June 2018, were enrolled into the study. Participants were assigned (non-randomized) into an outpatient programming group or remote programming group (where VNS parameters were adjusted through the internet) by parental choice. The responder rate, expenditure for VNS programming and adverse events were compared between the two groups. The median age at VNS implantation was 5.17 years (3.83-6.71), with the median epileptic course being 3.79 years (2.65-4.90). Twenty-four patients were assigned to the outpatient programming group and 22 were assigned to the remote programming group. Baseline data were comparable between the two groups, with the exception of the remote group having a longer distance between their place of residence and the hospital. The median time from VNS implantation to last follow-up was 1.33 years (1.25-1.75) and 1.46 years (1.17-1.58) in the outpatient and remote groups, respectively. In the outpatient programming group, 15 patients (62.5 %,) were VNS responders and four patients (16.6 %) became seizure-free. In the remote programming group, 16 patients (72.7 %) were VNS responders and four (17.4 %) became seizure-free. Cough and hoarseness were common adverse events in both the outpatient and remote groups (33.3 % vs. 18.2 %). There were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of adverse events.
The median cost of each follow-up visit per patient in the outpatient group was 192.4 US dollars ($120.0-$376.5), of which travelling expenses were the major component, followed by accommodation fees, outpatient service fees and indirect costs. Whereas, patients in the remote programming group only needed to pay for the remote programming expense, which totaled 75.8 US dollars per person each time. The efficacy and adverse events were both comparable between the outpatient and remote programming patients. Remote programming was found to be a more cost-effective treatment, especially for patients living further away from centers specializing in epilepsy.