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Terry McLeod of ehrSIO ProjectsehrSIO Projects
A blog about the technical and software sides of mental health and addictions

It's in the Genes

Terry McLeod Updated: Nov 2nd 2010

In a lot of ways, the future has arrived with if we can figure out what to do with the answers; we may end up in better mental health.

DNAI Googled "gene scans" and the first thing that came up is a company that sells such things, deCODEme. I can give them 2,000 of my hard earned dollars and they promise information to guide my life in areas from heart health to male pattern baldness (too late, check my picture).

A saliva test can tell us a lot about our susceptibility to certain diseases. I had a minor heart attack a few years ago, which may have been averted had I known earlier in life about my genetic leaning toward that problem. Evidently my father's side of the family is where I inherited the heart disease problem from, and those relatives have remained mysterious and unknown to me. Although we know that sort of thing can "run in the family" I had no clue of a possible heart problem, so a gene scan may have helped me.

A friend didn't realize diabetes ran in her extended family; perhaps she could have avoided or at least delayed the need for daily injections with a lifestyle change...if she knew of her genetic inclination toward the disease. Nutrition and exercise go a long way in preventing all sorts of physical health problems, and avoiding some foods can improve our immediate mental health. I quit caffeinated coffee and I immediately felt better, less anxious. Perhaps a diet change would have helped my friend.

A genetic test can nudge us toward lifestyle changes that can help us stay physically healthier, but can the test unveil mental health needs? If it can, what changes could I make in my life to avoid mental health problems?

I find the possibility of how this information can fit into our overall health maintenance is terribly interesting, and could augment how mental health professionals treat consumers. It's a snap to connect a scan of the gene or printed readout of results into the Electronic Health Record (EHR). In the future, this could be a reliable map to help us avoid mental health problems or lessen severity of those problems. Having the genetic clues on the professional's computer could guide therapy and medication, helping the professional zero in on problems and treatment solutions much more quickly. That sounds like something of value in this fast-paced instant-gratification world.

I can see a future that imports the gene scan results into the EHR, which automatically reads them and posts alerts in a consumer's record that they may be susceptible to certain conditions like schizophrenia or depression. Other treatment resources within the EHR already suggest medications for certain conditions, and educational resources are all over the Web. Gene scan technology can be brought into treatment technology with a goal of improving diagnosis methods and providing treatment guidance. It's nice for a professional to have just the information she needs at her fingertips.

Once again, my vision jumps the gun. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that we simply don't yet know how to read the genetic codes and glean information about our mental health. The body of evidence is too small to provide accurate forecasting. Scientists will need to methodically compare a bundle of gene scans for multiple gene patterns in a bundle of people in order to suggest how gene scans can be valuable in forecasting likelihood of mental illness.

Considerable research is under way, so one thing is certain: The future is near.


Terry McLeod

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are a required part of our society, and improving business workflows with the EHR is imperative for the survival of your local mental health and addictions treatment clinics. Terry McLeod provides the bridge between the mental health and addictions professional and the technical world, as well as the glue to keep it working. Contact McLeod at and get more information from his website and blog,

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

The Future May Not be Near - Brian - Nov 16th 2010

For more than 30 years, researchers have claimed to be on the verge of breakthroughs in understanding the biological basis of common psychological problems. Today, despite a lot of money being thrown at it, not a single biological marker can be used to make a mental health diagnosis. The human genome project has been a disappointment in that regard. Even research on whether neurotransmitters such as serotonin cause depression have been frustratingly inconclusive.

For these reasons, contrary to your last statement, I remain skeptical that "The future is near." We've spent 30 years believing the future is near, and despite some interesting research, there's no compelling evidence we're any closer to it.

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