We’ve experienced astonishing medical breakthroughs in the past century – stem cell therapies to treat various diseases, drugs that have the potential to help patients with cancer and HIV, minimally invasive surgeries for a variety of procedures, the list could go on. And while there also have been strides in mental healthcare, an area continuously lacking any fundamental advancement is ADHD diagnosis and treatment.
Technology is the crux of the modern healthcare system, giving us new information, tools and procedures to help countless patients. However, those seeking a diagnosis or already suffering from ADHD have long been overlooked by technological advancement. If a patient is suspected of having a specific type of cancer, their provider will order a CT, MRI or PET Scan, for instance, to inform their diagnosis. If another patient is believed to have diabetes, their doctor will run one or more blood tests to confirm. ADHD, however, lacks a standard diagnostic assessment used across clinics and hospital systems.
Thanks to the social media age, awareness of ADHD is spreading across demographic, social and geographic barriers, but there’s still a great deal of stigma and misunderstanding around the disorder. ADHD is a medical condition, not just a behavioral or mental health problem. Many people, healthcare providers included, have a stereotypical idea of what ADHD looks like – most likely a young, white, hyperactive boy. But both children and adults experience symptoms that vary based on their age and gender that can critically impact their daily activities.
Given the advances made in other areas of medicine and mental health, better technology-based solutions need to be implemented to diagnose and manage treatment for ADHD patients.
How Technology Leads to Better ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment
ADHD diagnoses historically rely on subjective assessments, like the Vanderbilt Assessment Scale or Conners Rating Scale. These assessments can be time-intensive and subject to bias, given the amount of observational information needed from the patient and their families, colleagues, or teachers. These observations are still critical to the ADHD diagnostic process, but they offer no age/sex comparable data from which an initial diagnosis can be made or treatment progress can be quantified.
Luckily, we live in a time where technology is making its way to ADHD patients and their healthcare providers. Objective testing technology is becoming more widely available to make both providers and patients more confident in both diagnosis and treatment outcomes.
Objective testing platforms now on the market are simple and efficient to use and often have the option to be conducted with a healthcare provider in clinic or via telehealth. Common objective tests are computer-based and take just around 20 minutes to complete. Through computer-based tasks, physicians can track how the patient responds to activities that measure the core signs of ADHD – activity, inattention and impulsivity.
From there, a visual, data-driven report is generated for the provider and the patient – and is likely the most beneficial part of this type of testing. The patient’s results are compared to others in their age range and assigned birth gender without ADHD, helping prove or disprove if the patient is a candidate for an ADHD diagnosis. These kinds of results offer rich insight into the patient’s core symptoms and how they present.
Why Objective Testing is Necessary for the Future
Objective test results, combined with subjective assessments and clinical history, produce a robust picture from which physicians can confidently diagnose ADHD, get patients on the proper treatment path and monitor their progress. I started using objective testing measures alongside ASRS so that I could more confidently diagnose patients and provide them more insight and data into this often complex disorder.
Access to the kind of data produced by objective tests, compiled into easily digestible reports for patients and their families, is key to making them more receptive to their diagnosis and treatment options. It is also critical for the next generation of healthcare providers to diagnose and treat ADHD patients accurately and assuredly. The more we incorporate this objective testing into the diagnostic process – and the more we aim to educate them about ADHD – the more receptive they will become.
Objective testing can and should be part of a standard process for ADHD diagnosis and treatment moving forward, helping healthcare providers make a more confident diagnosis and keep their ADHD patients healthy.
Dr. Gary Kanter, M.D. is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Florida.