Background: Epilepsy is the most common serious neurological condition after stroke, with a 0.5 per cent prevalence, and a two to three per cent life time risk of being given a diagnosis of epilepsy in the developed world. As a result of the perceived deficiencies and suggestions to improve the quality of care offered to people with epilepsy, two models of service provision have been suggested by researchers: specialist epilepsy out-patient clinics (as opposed to the management of patients in general neurology clinics or general medical clinics) and nurse-based liaison services between primary (GP) and secondary/tertiary (hospital based) care.
Objectives: The aim of this review is to overview the evidence from controlled trials investigating the effectiveness of specialist epilepsy nurses compared to routine care.
Search strategy: The following databases were searched: The Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (The Cochrane Library, Issue 4, 1999), MEDLINE, GEARS, BIDS (EMBASE=Excepta Medica), ECRI, Effectiveness Healthcare Bulletin, Effectiveness Matters, Bandolier, Evidence Based Purchasing, National Research Register, Vignettes and expert panels from Standing Group on Health Technology Assessment, PsycLit database, World Wide Web sites and reference lists of articles.
Selection criteria: All randomized controlled and quasi-randomized trials which considered specialist epilepsy nurse interventions with standard or alternative care were included in this review.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently selected trials for inclusion and extracted the relevant data. The following outcomes were assessed: (a) seizure frequency (b) appropriateness of medication prescribed (c) social or psychological functioning scores (d) knowledge about epilepsy scores (e) objective measures of general health status/quality of life (f) patients' reports of information received (g) number of days spent on sick leave/missing school and employment status (h) costs of care (i) adverse effects.
Main results: Three trials were included, two based in general practice and one in a neurology centre. The population of patients differed between trials, for example one study excluded patients with learning disabilities, and one only recruited patients with a new diagnosis. In view of this heterogeneity we decided not to pool results in a meta-analysis. As yet, there is no convincing evidence that specialist epilepsy nurses improve outcomes for people with epilepsy overall. Important outcomes (e.g. seizure frequency, psychosocial functioning, knowledge of epilepsy, general health status, work days lost, depression and anxiety scores) show no significant improvement. There is some evidence that those patients who have not had an epileptic seizure in the last six months are less at risk for depression. There is also evidence that newly diagnosed patients whose knowledge about epilepsy is poor may improve their epilepsy knowledge scores after nurse intervention.
Reviewer's conclusions: It is clearly plausible that specialist epilepsy nurses could improve quality in epilepsy care. However, there is as yet little evidence to support this assumption as the present research base is small. Further research is needed to investigate the effectiveness of specialist epilepsy nurses before such recommendations can be made.