By Robyn Mincher and Emily Deck, DCoE Strategic Communications
Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) hosted the fourth annual Trauma Spectrum Conference at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., Dec. 8-9. The conference brought together top minds from DCoE, NIH, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), health care providers and military health care advocates to discuss a key issue: how to bridge the gap between clinical research and military systems of care for psychological health and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“This is an important conference because we have a lot of creative people out in the world doing excellent work,” said Navy Capt. Paul S. Hammer, DCoE director, who gave opening remarks. He stressed the need to provide greater care to wounded warriors by translating information from the research world into clinical reality, and reminded the audience of the importance of keeping the patient at the center of what they do every day.
After encouraging the audience to introduce themselves to neighboring attendees, Hammer remarked that one of the first steps in bridging this gap was to reach out “and get to know people from other agencies.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences, outlined the modern epidemiology of TBI and gave an overview of TBI in the military and modern battlefield. He discussed diffusion-tensor imaging, an advanced technique that scans white matter in the brain. The technique is valuable because it can help clinicians diagnose a TBI months after the trauma.
Technology to improve diagnosis and treatment became a focal point of the conference, as new imaging techniques and technology from National Center of Telehealth and Technology (T2) were presented.
Dr. Greg Gahm, T2 director, took the audience on a virtual tour of the center’s mobile applications, websites, telehealth units and the future of its efforts to help service members manage care.
He praised suicideoutreach.org and afterdeployment.org as key resources for improving military psychological health care and noted the success of the popular Mood Tracker mobile application. He also discussed the use of virtual worlds for treatment, including demonstrating the T2 Virtual PTSD Experience, which provides information about PTSD causes, symptoms and resources for care.
“We at T2 believe the best way to predict the future is to create it, and we will continue to do that,” Gahm said.
Dr. Anthony Panettiere, a neurology and sleep physician at National Intrepid Center of Excellence, talked about sleep concerns. The center treats service members with post-combat sleep disorders in its sleep lab.
“Most troops do not look forward to going to bed,” he said as he discussed ways the center treats a service member with wartime experiences that turn into nightmares.
“We have a patient take a dream or nightmare they’re having, write it down and then [encourage them to] change the beginning or the end to something less emotional,” said Panettiere.
Afternoon workshops provided attendees with opportunities to gain more information and resources and ask questions about psychological health topics such as co-occurring disorders, cognitive rehabilitation, substance use disorders, among other subjects.
Day one of the conference ended with encouragement for attendees to embrace what they learned to help improve the system of military health care.
“We can rapidly translate what we’re learning from our investment into clinical practice,” said Dr. Alison Cernich, VA Maryland Health Care System and VA senior liaison for TBI with DCoE. “Above all, the service member and veteran is our focus. For all of us, the responsibility, and the charge, is clear.”
A first-time poster session was held later that afternoon where 26 researchers highlighted current and emerging findings and best practices focused on bridging the gap between research and clinical practice of psychological health and TBI. Award recognition went to Susanne W. Gibbons, Ph.D., assistant professor, Graduate School of Nursing, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, for her poster about “Gender Differences in Response to Deployment Among Military Healthcare Providers in Afghanistan and Iraq.”