Protecting Epileptics Behind the Wheel

Six states in the country require doctors to report any loss of consciousness during a seizure of one of their patients. While the law was designed to protect the public from car accidents caused by a loss of consciousness while driving, a new study finds it may lead patients to withhold information from their doctor about their medical condition. The finding was reported during the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Honolulu.

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 400 patients from the Stanford Epilepsy Clinic. California is one of the states with the mandatory reporting law. The survey replies were anonymous and 207 patients filled out the questionnaire. The patients were asked about their driving record, whether they had concealed medical information from their doctor, and how they felt the law affected their relationship with their doctor.

Researchers report almost half of the respondents were still driving and 77 percent of them had driven in the past. About 9 percent of the patients said they had concealed information on their seizures from their doctor due to fear of losing their driver’s license and 19 percent said they had considered concealing information from their doctor. This is dangerous because if doctors don’t know that their patients are having seizures, they can’t work with them to alter their medications to control their seizures.

The study also showed that 13 percent of the patients felt the mandatory reporting law had a negative impact on their relationship with their doctor. Our concern is that this will at least weaken the lines of communication between patient and doctor and at worse cause patients to go without treatment if they avoid medical care. Not only is this dangerous to the health of individual patients, but it also defeats the initial goal of the mandatory reporting law.

Interestingly, researchers also found four out of five patients said they would voluntarily stop driving if they had a seizure, whether or not the state had a mandatory physician reporting law. Researchers conclude policy makers should consider eliminating the mandatory law and replace it with a voluntary system.

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