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Brain Scans: Rocket Science

Mental health and addictions professionals require tools. For a couple decades, Terry McLeod has been a trailblazer providing those tools in the form of Electronic ...Read More

Some days I forget that life is about reveling in the challenge and working to overcome my problems, and just sulk. I imagine many folks are like this, looking for a quick fix, not wanting to work through daily issues or even long term mental health problems.

Is the promise of brain scans such a quick fix in treating mental health problems? Rapid recovery sounds like a pretty good goal.

Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) thinks brain scans are akin to rocket science of the 1960’s…not ready for prime time. That said, he does acquiesce that brain scans, have some very promising results. He cites the use of MEG(magnetoencephalography) as being proven over 90% effective in diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)…sounds pretty effective to me.

One of the problem professionals and consumers have in mental health treatment is getting the right medications for that person. It would be simpler if everybody responded the same way to a single medication, but that’s not how it is. When NIMH researchers studied a specific MEG signal, they were successful in predicting which patients would be served well by a new anti-depressent, ketamine. Since it takes a while for many of these sorts of medications to take efffect, this technology seems to be working now to shorten the time of misery.

Using brain scans to work with mental illness is, at the very least, a great example of how technology is expanding into the field. The scan can be read electronically, so the scan or results of the scan can be ported directly into the secure Electronic Health Record (EHR) of the consumer. This is a good thing in viewing the technology as an outcomes tool.

In mental health and addiction treatment, measuring tools like assessments can show improvement or decline of conditions over a period of time, and with the record at a professional’s fingertips on the computer, the consumer gets better treatment. Changes in a consumer’s condition as treatment progresses helps professionals adjust the course of treatment as it’s needed. Historically, these assessments have been a series of questions with answers and impressions scribbled on a piece of paper. The EHR has helped with legibility and being able to graph assessment results, which provides an easy-to-read format to view progress over time.

Is the brain scan such a tool? Oh, I dunno…as far as I know the scan could be a once-in-a-lifetime event, but I doubt it, simply because everything else changes and technology is still exploding in all areas of healthcare.

It is certain that emerging technologies are aimed at higher quality in diagnosing and treating mental health problems. The assessment tools in the EHR have helped professionals and consumers focus on improving specific conditions. Brain scans appear to be another tool that will be added to the mental health professionals’ toolbox that will help shorten the time to recovery. Insel appears unconvinced of widespread applicability of the tool, so more research is required…but it’s coming. I can foresee widespread use of the technology simply because the consumer wants to get better, faster.

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