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Deep Brain Stimulation: Experts Warn About Aggressive Marketing

A paper published in the February issue of Health Affairs – discussed at length in an article in the New York Times – contains the sort of blunt, plain-spoken language you seldom read in academic journals. The authors, who include some of the most prominent neuroscientists and ethicists in the world, warn that manufacturers are misusing the FDA’s humanitarian device exemption to promote deep brain stimulation as a “treatment” for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

In fact, they make clear that deep brain stimulation is very much an experimental procedure. Research is still at an early stage, and the risks to patients are not well defined. When suffering is severe and no other treatment has provided relief, there is value in making available an intervention like deep brain stimulation. But misleading or biased information, no matter where it comes from, certainly undermines patients’ ability to calculate benefits and risks.

To enable deep brain stimulation, a surgeon must first implant electrodes in the brain and connect them to a pair of small electrical generators underneath the collarbone. Deep brain stimulation uses electricity to affect how brain signals are transmitted in particular areas of the brain. The image to the left, from the National Institute of Mental Health, shows how deep brain stimulation depends on the implantation of pulse generators below the collarbone and electrodes in the brain.

Specific concerns are raised by the article in Health Affairs (and in our own article on this topic last year in the Harvard Mental Health Letter). Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Twitter Used To Gauge The Nation’s Mood

A team from Northeastern University and Harvard Medical School has been analyzing words used in tweets by American users in an attempt to gauge the public mood around the country.

What they discovered was that users on the West Coast seem to be quite a bit jollier than those on the East Coast. It’s not clear whether the data was collected during the summer or winter months and accordingly adjusted, for that surely would affect the readings.

Researchers were able to infer the mood of each tweet using a psychological word-rating system developed by the National Institute of Mental Health’s Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention. The system ranks words based on how they make people feel. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

Life Without A Mental Disorder: Is It Possible?

There’s a noteworthy column in Psychiatric Times, “Normality Is an Endangered Species: Psychiatric Fads and Overdiagnosis,” by Allen Frances, M.D. He was chair of the task force that worked on the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual — DSM-IV — one edition of the “bible of psychiatry.” He is professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine. There’s a lot of common ground between what Dr. Frances writes and what Dr. Daniel Carlat (the subject of an earlier blog posting) writes about. Dr. Frances is concerned about the directions that might be taken in the authoring of DSM-V, now underway.


“Fads in psychiatric diagnosis come and go and have been with us as long as there has been psychiatry. The fads meet a deeply felt need to explain, or at least to label, what would otherwise be unexplainable human suffering and deviance. In recent years the pace has picked up and false “epidemics” have come in bunches involving an ever-increasing proportion of the population. We are now in the midst of at least 3 such epidemics–of autism, attention deficit, and childhood bipolar disorder. And unless it comes to its senses, DSM5 threatens to provoke several more (hypersexuality, binge eating, mixed anxiety depression, minor neurocognitive, and others). Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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