A recent study from the University of Minnesota’s Department of Neurology and School of Public Health shows how epilepsy impacts Upper Midwest Native Americans. According to U of M researchers, steps must be taken to improve care in this community including addressing barriers such as limited epilepsy care and transportation access, issues of trust concerning the medical system, and the startling economic impacts suffered by those affected with epilepsy within the Native American community.
The latest study, “Comparison Study of Beliefs and Quality of Health Care of Native Americans With and Without Epilepsy” examined 55 Native Americans in Minnesota, 23 with epilepsy and 32 without. The study was made possible through a grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and outreach via tribal offices, the Native American Community Clinic and the Minneapolis American Indian Center.
According to the study’s authors, epilepsy is a fairly common neurological condition affecting nearly one percent of the U.S. population, but with possibly higher prevalence among Native Americans and other ethnic minorities.
“We were concerned about the quality and access to health care that Native Americans with epilepsy were getting. We also wanted to have accurate information about what was lacking in their care so that we can develop recommendations to improve their care,” said Miguel Fiol, M.D., principal investigator and associate professor of neurology with the Department of Neurology. Co-principal investigator, Kirk Allison, Ph.D., is director of the School of Public Health’s Program in Human Rights and Health.
The study identified a need for action in several areas that could help combat epilepsy-related health disparities in Native American populations, including education concerning epilepsy causes, management, and stigma; seizure recognition, and prescription drug side effects. Issues with the health care system, knowledge of driving criteria, and the need for employment support are also identified as important.
The study is leading to the development of educational materials that will be helpful within the area’s Native American community and in clinics. The information obtained by the team of researchers will be used to educate doctors and other staff on disparities issues and will impact the University of Minnesota Medical School’s revised curriculum.
Additionally, the research findings will be presented at this summer’s International Epilepsy Congress in Montreal and submitted to research journals to benefit others concerned about Native American health disparities across the United States to foster better medical and social care for Native Americans with epilepsy.