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Learning difficulties often not documented in newly diagnosed focal epilepsy.

OBJECTIVE: A previous investigation of people with newly diagnosed focal epilepsy participating in the Human Epilepsy Project 1 (HEP1) revealed an association between learning difficulties and structural brain differences, suggesting an underlying relationship prior to seizure onset. To investigate physicians' practices of documentation learning difficulties during clinical encounters, we conducted a review of initial epileptologist encounter notes from HEP1 participants who self-reported early life learning difficulties separately as part of study enrollment.

METHODS: HEP1 enrolled 67 North American participants between June 2012 and November 2017 who self-reported one or more difficulties with learning (i.e., having repeated grade, receiving learning support/remediation, and/or formal diagnosis of a learning disability) prior to epilepsy diagnosis as part of the study enrollment. The epileptologist's initial encounter note was then reviewed in detail for each of these participants. Documentation of learning issues and specific diagnoses of learning disabilities was compared to participant characteristics. Regression analysis was used to test for any independent associations between participant characteristics and physician documentation of learning difficulties.

RESULTS: There were significant independent relationships between age, sex, and physician documentation of learning difficulties. On average, participants ages 22 and younger were 12.12 times more likely to have their learning difficulties documented compared to those 23 years and older (95 % CI: 2.226 to 66.02, p = 0.004). Additionally, male participants had 7.2 times greater odds of having their learning difficulty documented compared to female participants (95 % CI: 1.538 to 33.717, p = 0.012). There were no significant independent associations between race, language, employment, or geographical region.

SIGNIFICANCE: These findings highlight disparities in physician documentation for people with newly diagnosed focal epilepsy and a history of learning difficulties. In the HEP1 cohort, physicians were more likely to document learning difficulties in males and in younger individuals. Systematic practice standards are important for reducing healthcare disparities across populations, improving clinical care to individuals, as well as enabling more accurate retrospective study of clinical phenomenon.

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