Barriers toward epilepsy surgery. A survey among practicing neurologists

Giuseppe Erba, Lorenzo Moja, Ettore Beghi, Paolo Messina, Elisabetta Pupillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Purpose: Guidelines for refractory epilepsy recommend timely referral of potential surgical candidates to an epilepsy center for evaluation. However, this approach is seldom a priority for treating neurologists, possibly because of inertia of previous practice and personal attitudes, leading to a buildup of psychosocial disabilities and increased risk of morbidity and mortality. The aim of this study was to assess knowledge and attitudes toward epilepsy surgery among practicing neurologists and identify the barriers that delay the treatment. Methods: We surveyed 183 Italian adult and child neurologists with an ad hoc questionnaire exploring physicians' willingness to refer patients for epilepsy surgery when such treatment may be indicated. Thirteen of 14 questions had graded answers ranging from 1 (unfavorable to surgery) to 10 (favorable). We compared the overall scores and per-question scores of the neurologists versus a group of academic and clinical leaders in the field. Key Findings: The neurologists gave responses characterized by extreme variability (i.e., wide response interquartile range) around intermediate scores. Experts had higher and less variable scores favoring surgery. The two groups differed significantly on issues such as how long to pursue pharmacologic treatment and information about indications and outcome of surgery. Multivariate analysis indicated that neurologists' attitudes correlated with the number of patients referred for surgery (p <0.01) and the geographical region where specialty was attained (p <0.01). Other variables such as years in practice, number of patients treated for epilepsy, or type of specialty had no predictive value on physicians' behavior. Significance: The majority of Italian neurologists have highly variable attitudes toward epilepsy surgery, reflecting ambivalence and uncertainty toward this type of treatment. About two thirds of responders are nonaligned with the opinion leaders, mainly due to differences in handling pharmacologic treatment and information regarding epilepsy surgery, which affect their attitudes and ultimately patient management. Strategies that may solve the lack of agreement include reinforcing the concept of pharmacoresistance and associated risks, as opposed to the safety and potential benefits of surgery, the use of epilepsy quality measures during follow-up, and the adoption of structured referral sheets and greater involvement of patients in decision making. These measures should facilitate the referral of potential candidates for surgical evaluation and improve overall quality of care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-43
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012



  • Epilepsy surgery
  • Pharmacoresistance
  • Physicians' attitudes
  • Questionnaire
  • Refractory epilepsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology

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