Functional neuroimaging is being used in clinical psychiatry today despite the vigorous objections of many in the research community over issues of readiness. To date, a systematic examination of the perspectives of key stakeholders involved in this debate has not yet been attempted. To this fill this gap, we interviewed investigators who conduct functional neuroimaging studies involving adults with mood disorders, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, providers who offer clinical neuroimaging services in the open marketplace, and consumers of these services, in order to understand perspectives underlying different views and practices.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted over the telephone. Verbal consent was obtained and all interviews were audio recorded. Interviews of investigators and service providers followed the same interview guide. A separate set of questions was developed for consumers. All interviews were transcribed and made software ready. We applied the qualitative methodology of constant comparison to analyze the data, whereby two researchers independently analyzed the results into textual themes. Coding discrepancies were discussed until consensus was achieved.
Investigators, service providers, and consumers held many common perspectives about the potential or actual risks and benefits of functional neuroimaging for mental illness. However, we also found striking divergences. Service providers focused on the challenges posed by the persistence of symptoms based diagnostic categories, whereas the limitations of the science in this area was the challenge noted most frequently by investigators. The majority of consumers stated that their expectations were met.
Our findings point toward a fundamental tension between academic investigators on the one hand, and commercial service providers and their customers on the other. This scenario poses dangers to the communities directly involved, and to public trust in science and medicine more generally. We conclude with recommendations for work that needs to be done to minimize tensions and maximize the potential of neurotechnology through concerted efforts to respect its limitations while leveraging the strengths, investments, and hopes of each stakeholder group.