Brain 2013

Several years ago, I stopped making New Year’s resolutions. I had always been pretty good at accomplishing goals I set, but I was starting to find it harder and harder to follow through on something like those annual resolutions. I was also finding it hard to locate particular words when I was looking for them; and I long ago decided that if something is not written down, it does not exist…at least not for me and my overburdened memory.

My proposed solution to the challenges facing my aging brain is something Seth and I named ‘Google Brain’. It is the chip that will be implanted into our brains to be augmented by Google’s outrageous computers and search capabilities. While I have no advance knowledge of Google working on such a project, I have hope that they are doing so…and that it will be available while I can still benefit from it. They are even welcome to the name I have chosen for their project!

Several things have popped into my awareness lately to make me hope my fantasy will one day be a reality.

At the beginning of January, some psychology colleagues on a technology listserv of which I am a member mentioned an episode of 60 Minutes in which a young man successfully participated in a stair-climbing event in a 103-story Chicago building. This man has a prosthetic leg that he controls by his thoughts.

Another colleague responded indicating that there are many projects in the works that extend that same technology. Neuroscience has become the ‘hot’ research field related to mental health and behavior. It has many practical applications, but can seem so complicated as to be off-putting to some. That is why a video explaining some of the technology and research tools being used is so delightful. This is a clear and visually appealing explanation of semantic mapping in the brain, something that has fascinated me since the very early brain research demonstrated the storing of memories in particular regions of the brain, and their recall through electrical stimulation during brain surgery. The use of fMRI to advance this purpose is very exciting. These are important arenas for behavioral health providers to be informed about. It might well be the future of this field.

We certainly are approaching what many of us thought might be the distant future. Verizon together with cellphone producer HTC has started to communicate the image of humans enhanced by technology with their Droid DNA phone and ads. Google released their new Google Glasses in 2012. These are glasses enhanced with computer, camera, and internet connectivity. When I wrote about two books that used these glasses and fMRI in 2011, I knew the technology was available somewhere but did not know it would soon be here for the rest of us to start to access.

I love finding out about technologies like this that may be available to all of us in my lifetime. Maybe I will even be able to make and carry out New Year’s resolutions again with the help of some of these tools-in-the-making. Are there things in your world that provide the same kind of  excitement and hope for you? New tools, new toys, new ideas? Please share your comments below.



Mobile Data Security a Big Concern

Do you use a laptop that contains patient information? Do you have a list of your patients with their telephone numbers, email addresses and appointment schedule in your smart phone? Are those devices encrypted?

The number of mobile devices we utilize to conduct our businesses has expanded beyond belief. What can we do to make sure that our patient data is not at risk if we utilize these devices to access their information? As providers of behavioral healthcare services, we have special responsibility to protect the sensitive information related to the care of our clients.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is very concerned about the spread of these devices and their innate insecurity. They have developed a special section of their web site to focus on these privacy and security needs.

The HHS video on the topic focuses on five issues:

  1. Lost mobile device
  2. Stolen mobile device
  3. Downloaded virus or malware
  4. Shared mobile device
  5. Unsecured Wi-Fi network

Take a look when you get a chance and learn more about how to protect PHI when using mobile devices. And don’t forget, encryption gives you ‘safe harbor’ under HIPAA, even if you were to experience a data breach.

Does your organization have policies about using mobile devices to access PHI? How do you manage your experience with mobility? Please share your comments below.


Caregiving and Caregivers

I have recently been struck by the number of people in my immediate circle who are primary caregivers for someone other than their children. I am not sure how I had not noticed this earlier in my life. I have always had friends older, younger and the same age as me, so I thought I had a wide spectrum of life experiences on my radar. Not so at all. Only in the last several years as I have focused on my own needs as a caregiver have I really started to notice just how common this state of life is.

According to, nearly 66 million Americans are caring for an elderly, seriously ill or disabled friend or family member. Within our organization, 1/5 of us work full-time and are also primary caregivers. I was surprised to learn that we are exactly representative of the rest of the U.S. The 66 million indicated above is about 21% of the approximately 315 million people living in this country. Just look around you. If you are not the one-in-five yourself, one of the four people who sits near you at work is likely to be.

Medicare is concerned enough about this state of affairs that it has dedicated a section of its website to providing information and resources for caregivers. This includes documents and videos as well as links. If you are caring for someone who is on Medicare, knowing what services Medicare covers can be most helpful, and having access to additional resources can be a lifesaver!

One of the links on the site takes you to a Department of Health and Human Services Eldercare locator. This is aimed at helping you find specific kinds of services near to your home when the person you care for is elderly. Many caregivers never look for assistance because they assume none is available. That is not necessarily the case. Learning to reach out and ask for help is an essential survival skill.

Those of us who currently work in the behavioral health field or have done so in the past are always attuned to mental health issues in our clients. Unfortunately, we often overlook those same issues in our own family members, friends and co-workers. According to the National Family Caregivers Association, family caregivers often experience major depression.

Family caregivers suffer from major depression much more frequently than the rest of the population. That’s a fact. When a family caregiver suffers from depression, there are two people at risk – the family caregiver and the family member or friend for whom she or he cares.

Learning to identify depression and deciding to seek assistance is essential to self-care. Just as you would assure that a client is getting appropriate services to treat depression, it is important that you reach out to the caregivers in your life who may be in need of support and similar services.

As baby-boomers become ‘senior’ citizens, the numbers of those needing assistance and of caregivers providing that help will increase dramatically. Now may be the time to learn about available resources and to provide them to those caregivers you know.

Please share your experience. Just enter your comments below.

Resources on Post-Storm Trauma, CPT Codes, Veterans’ Services and More

If you read this blog often, you will notice that I regularly link to articles and other resources posted by The National Council. While we have exhibited at their conference, our organization has never been a member of The National Council. We have, however, been a grateful promoter of the resources that this organization shares freely with the behavioral health community. If you have never gone to their website or attended a webinar, you should take the opportunity to do so. They provide outstanding information in a timely manner. In spite of not being members, we have never been prevented from attending webinars or sharing in their well-researched and well-documented information.

I wanted to point you to some of the current information being provided by The National Council.

  1. Last week I talked about the need to have your own emergency contingency plans in case of storms and other natural and unnatural disasters. Since most of you are providers of behavioral health services, you will also find yourselves dealing with clients who have experienced the same trauma you have gone through. Just this afternoon, a webinar entitled Mitigating Disaster Trauma: Lessons from Sandy was presented by The National Council. While the webinar is over, The National Council routinely records webinar presentations for later viewing. You should be able to view this one within 48 hours.
  2. On November 9, Manon and I attended the Council’s webinar on CPT Code changes for 2013. Both the recording of the webinar and the slide deck from the presentation are available. In addition, a December 3 webinar has been scheduled to provide additional information about the new Evaluation and Management CPT Codes and how to use them. Registration is still open for that event.
  3. A new report announced by The Council reveals the incredible costs of the unmet mental health needs of returning U.S. Veterans. Having just passed Veterans Day, this is a sad reality we all need to be educated about. Those of you who provide services to Veterans will find the report of interest.

Please be sure to reference these resources properly if you refer to them in any of your own newsletters and announcements. The National Council does outstanding work in educating the behavioral health community and deserves credit for all the work they do!

Please share other resources that you find useful in your work. We love to be able to let our readers know about the wonderful materials that are available to them to enhance the outstanding work you all do in providing mental health services to all who need them.


Integrated Medical and Mental Health Care

Almost every time I bring up the topic of behavioral healthcare being integrated with general healthcare delivery, a private mental health practitioner responds questioning how this could possibly work. In response to my June post on this issue, one of our customers shared his thoughts (see comments) about just how this might occur and the obstacles to making it happen in the private setting. I responded like this:

I think many private practitioners are in the same position you are. Unless they do a very health-oriented practice, they see themselves continuing to function quite separately from general healthcare.

The picture is not the same in the public arena. At this time, about 60% of the funding for all mental health and substance abuse services comes from public, not private, sources. Of the people receiving such services, a large percentage have serious physical illnesses as well.

SAMHSA and The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare are moving forward with pilot programs and research on the integration of general and behavioral healthcare since this makes lots of sense in the public sector for the seriously mentally ill. But it may also have implications in the private arena. In fact, the move to provide integrated healthcare services in the public sector, and wherever possible in the private sector (like in Accountable Care Organizations – ACOs) has many folks exploring obstacles that may exist to such integration and ways to overcome those obstacles.

Yesterday, I was reading a September SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions newsletter that linked to an interesting article on the use and evaluation of Telephone Administered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for depression. The research started from the current reality that most treatment for depression is provided in primary care physician offices. Of course, this treatment usually consists of medication. While patients prefer psychotherapy to medication for treatment of depression, and both CBT and medication appear to be about equally effective, access to psychotherapy is limited for most people. Cost or convenient access to a psychotherapist covered by their health insurance or some other equally valid reason interferes with provision of psychotherapy.

The research demonstrated that telephone administered CBT was more effective in keeping the client participating in therapy. Both telephone administered CBT and face-to-face CBT were equally effective in diminishing symptoms of depression at time of termination. Face-to-face CBT seemed to maintain the effects better at a six-month measure.

At this point in reading the results, I was reminded of Dr. Suzanne Bennett Johnson’s initiative as President of American Psychological Association (APA) for 2012. She wanted to remind psychologists that they are part of a healthcare profession, and that most of us are well-trained in conducting research. We are ideally suited to design and conduct the studies that will demonstrate just where psychologists and other mental health professionals can best serve in integrated healthcare. I could instantly imagine the re-design of the study reported above to include Skype or other Internet service-based delivery of the CBT so that at least some of the elements of the face-to-face therapy would be present.

There is already lots of opinion about the potential benefits and detriments of remotely-administered behavioral health treatment. Psychologist David C. Mohr, Ph.D., Professor in Preventive Medicine, Medical Social Sciences, and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University lists Internet Intervention and Telemental Health as significant aspects of his interests. Quoted in that 2008 Time Magazine article, Dr. Mohr sees distinct areas where teletherapy or other internet programming might be of use, especially CBT for depression.

Other cutting-edge practitioners have already added internet-based services including videotherapy into their retinue. Given a solid research foundation, video-based therapeutic services might well be a way for the private practitioner of behavioral healthcare to integrate their services with general healthcare.

We can sit back and watch as our healthcare system changes all around us, letting others dictate to us the role we will play. Alternatively, we can be active participants in designing the models for inclusion of behavioral healthcare in primary care. We can design the models, do the research, and market the methods to ACOs, health plans, and medical providers.

We would love to hear from any of you who already work in a setting where mental health services are integrated into primary healthcare. Please let us know your experience and what you think.