June 2, 2021

Social Determinants Do Not Affect Access to Specialized Epilepsy Care in Veterans

Abstract, originally published in Epilepsy & Behavior

Introduction: It is well established that sociodemographic and neighborhood determinants impact access to healthcare. Veterans with epilepsy (VWE) face unique challenges that may limit access to specialized epilepsy care, though institutional initiatives have aimed to minimize disparities. We assessed the extent to which surrogate markers of access to quality care in VWE were impacted by sociodemographic and neighborhood determinants.

Methods: The sample included 180 VWE. Surrogate markers included time between initial diagnosis and admission to epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) (time to referral, TTR), and the number of CT, MRI, and EEGs conducted prior to initial EMU evaluation. Sociodemographic and neighborhood determinants included age, sex, race, education, neighborhood advantage, rural status, distance from home to the nearest VAMC, and number of service connection (SC) conditions. Significant correlations across variables of interest were entered into a linear regression. Group differences between social factors were assessed for early and late TTR groups (based on 1st and 4th quartiles).

Results: The mean TTR was 12 years (SD ± 13.18). Longer TTR was correlated to older age (p < 0.001) and fewer SC conditions (p = 0.03). None of the other factors were significantly correlated to TTR. Older age significantly predicted longer TTR on regression. The earlier TTR group was younger, had more SC conditions, lived closer to a VAMC, and was more likely to be female. Greater geographic distance was correlated with fewer CT scans (p = 0.01). A greater number of MRIs was correlated with older age (p = 0.04). Younger age (p < 0.01) and greater education (p = 0.01) were correlated with more SC.

Conclusion: Access to epilepsy care among veterans with epilepsy was largely unimpacted by social determinants, with the exception of older age leading to longer time to referral. The time to referral in veterans with epilepsy was considerably shorter than has been reported in the literature for civilian patients. The Veterans Health Administration model of care may harbor certain advantages in epilepsy treatment.

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