Published on July 06, 2020

Hospital opens region's only epilepsy monitoring unit

By Renee Beasley Jones, Messenger-Inquirer

Owensboro Health Regional Hospital recently opened the region’s only epilepsy monitoring unit.

In the past, the nearest EMUs were in Louisville; Lexington; Nashville, Tennessee; and Bloomington, Indiana.

That meant patients diagnosed with epilepsy drove about two hours one way to be tested in an EMU.

Thomas Hughes, of Owensboro, had his first epileptic seizure nearly 25 years ago.

A few years ago, Hughes spent 12 days in Nashville at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s EMU. He’s also been tested at two Kentucky units.

But Hughes views himself as lucky. He has supportive family members who drive him to tests and regular visits with his epileptologist in Nashville.

He was pleased to hear OHRH now has an EMU and epileptologist. Local services can be a big help for people who lack family support or who can’t spare days away from work annually for doctor visits and testing, Hughes said.

“An EMU in the area will definitely help,” he said.

Hughes was eager to learn more about OHRH’s new program.

An EMU offers advanced neurology services to patients with epilepsy, including continuous video electroencephalogram testing, or EEG, in a safe environment, which helps manage seizure activity and reduce or even stop anti-epileptic medication use. The average stay for EMU testing is three days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 49,500 people in Kentucky have epilepsy. By percentage of the population, the average number of residents in the state who suffer from epilepsy is higher than the national average.

Dr. Fawad Bilal, a neurohospitalist and epileptologist, joined OH in 2018. The previous hospital at which he worked had an EMU and asked the health system to create a unit.

“It’s the most accurate gold standard of diagnosing someone with epilepsy,” Bilal said.

In an EMU, a 24/7 electroencephalogram (EEG) with video and audio recordings allow doctors and technicians to review of the events both clinically and electrographically in real time. This information can be helpful in identifying the series of events surrounding epileptic episodes.

Without that level of testing, it can be challenging to diagnose a patient correctly because there many variables involved with epilepsy, Bilal said.

In the past, OHRH’s neurology unit referred several patients a month to outside health care systems for EMU testing.

“But (patients) don’t want to be treated elsewhere,” he said.

They prefer the convenience of their home hospital.

OH invested nearly $100,000 to turn two rooms on the neurology unit into the EMU. The health system also hired a registered EEG technologist with many years of experience.

Kentucky has only three certified epilepsy centers — two in Louisville and one in Lexington. A year or so from now, OH officials hope to start the application process to become a certified center.

“It takes time,” said Sara Abell, OHRH electrodiagnostics manager. “It takes a number of studies.”

Abell appreciates Bilal’s dedication to creating an EMU at the hospital.

“This is providing a service people didn’t have, and it’s due to his perseverance. He is advancing our epilepsy services to a higher level,” Abell said.

About Owensboro Health

Owensboro Health is a nonprofit health system with a mission to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities it serves in Kentucky and Indiana. The system includes Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, nationally recognized for design, architecture and engineering; Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital, the Owensboro Health Medical Group comprised of over 200 providers at more than 20 locations; three outpatient Healthplex facilities, a certified medical fitness facility, the Healthpark; a surgical weight loss center and program, and the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center.

On average each year, we have 16,000 inpatient admissions, deliver 2,000 babies and provide the region’s only Level III NICU. Owensboro Health physicians perform nearly 24,000 surgical procedures, including nearly 200 open-heart surgeries. Our physicians and staff have 70,000 Emergency Department visits, more than a million outpatient visits annually. Visit our home page for more information.