Acquired brain injury is a critical public health and socioeconomic problem in Canada, leaving many patients in vegetative, minimally conscious, or locked-in states, unresponsive and unable to communicate. Recent advances in neuroimaging research have demonstrated residual consciousness in a few exemplary patients with acquired brain injury, suggesting potential misdiagnosis and changes in prognosis. Such progress, in parallel with research using multimodal brain imaging technologies in recent years, has promising implications for clinical translation, notwithstanding the many challenges that impact health care and policy development. This study explored the perspectives of Canadian professionals with expertise either in neuroimaging research, disorders of consciousness, or both, on the potential clinical applications and implications of imaging technology.
Twenty-two professionals from designated communities of neuroimaging researchers, ethicists, lawyers, and practitioners participated in semistructured interviews. Data were analyzed for emergent themes.
The five most dominant themes were: (1) validation and calibration of the methods; (2) informed consent; (3) burdens on the health care system; (4) implications for the Canadian health care system; and (5) possibilities for improved prognosis.
Movement of neuroimaging from research into clinical care for acquired brain injury will require careful consideration of legal and ethical issues alongside research reliability, responsible distribution of health care resources, and the interaction of technological capabilities with patient outcome.