Debunking 4 Myths of Virtual Eating Disorder Treatment Programs
Advances in technology, the changing needs of those living with eating disorders, and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to an increase in individuals seeking virtual eating disorder treatment programs.
In basic terms, virtual eating disorder treatment is the delivery of remote clinical services through virtual means, including video conferencing, instant messaging, email, phone calls, and other internet-based communication.
The Benefits of Virtual Care
The rise in the availability of virtual mental health treatment has proven to be particularly important for eating disorders. Of those living with eating disorders, it’s estimated that only 20% of them can access traditional treatment. (1)
There are a variety of factors that affect access to treatment, such as geographic barriers, insurance coverage, out-of-pocket expenses, lack of inclusivity, long waiting lists, and weight stigma.
Virtual care can help close the huge access gap that is preventing those with eating disorders that urgently require treatment, benefits include:
- Easy to access specific forms of therapy and evidence-based treatments.
- Typically, virtual care is more cost-effective compared to traditional in-person treatment.
- Flexible timing for treatment and a lower time commitment as there is no need to commute to appointments.
- It’s carried out in the comfort of your own home. For example, individuals may receive meal support and can prepare food in their own kitchens so they can practice their skills in the environment where they’re recovering.
- Reduced stress related to the logistical challenges of accessing treatment, such as geographic barriers, lack of transportation, and long waiting lists.
- Easier for family members to attend necessary sessions – even from different locations – so they can learn effective strategies for nutritional rehabilitation.
Debunking four myths about virtual care programs
Now you know the benefits of virtual care programs for eating disorders, let’s look at some of the common misconceptions surrounding virtual treatment.
Myth 1: I won’t get the level of treatment I need
Fact: While it’s true, virtual care programs can’t provide the same level of hands-on 24/7 medical supervision as an inpatient program, virtual care does provide support in other areas where inpatient programs cannot. At Within Health, our virtual care app has allowed our team to extend their care to the places our patients need support the most, such by virtually helping with grocery and clothing shopping. Virtual care programs are made to fit around your schedule, and are set up to provide patients with the specific type of care they need. For medically and psychologically stable patients with eating disorders, virtual treatment programs are a great treatment option.
Myth 2: I won’t get comprehensive treatment at a virtual program
Fact: The multidisciplinary team at a virtual program for eating disorders, (which may include nurses, doctors, therapists, nutritionists, and movement specialists), are highly capable of providing comprehensive treatment for all types of eating disorders. Your virtual care team will be focused on bettering your care, and helping you through each step of treatment and recovery. Virtual care programs can deliver a variety of treatments, including group therapy, psychotherapies, and nutrition counseling. Many virtual care programs provide patients with more flexibility than inpatient programs, which actually expands accessibility to comprehensive treatment.
Myth 3: There isn’t the same level of privacy at a virtual program
Fact: Virtual care programs, just like in-person treatment, are required to be HIPPA-compliant and will therefore use software that protects your privacy. HIPAA is a federal law put in place to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without knowledge or consent. Virtual care eating disorder programs are held to the same standard of care, and patient protection expected at any inpatient program.
Myth 4: Virtual care is not as effective as in-person treatment
Fact: A recent study found no difference in outcomes between in-person multidisciplinary eating disorder treatment, and the same team-based care approach delivered virtually. In both groups, researchers saw reduced eating disorder symptoms, positive weight outcomes, improvement in mental wellbeing, and fewer perfectionism traits at the time of discharge. (2) Research has also shown that virtual eating disorder treatment is just as effective as traditional face-to-face treatment.
In recent years, virtual services for eating disorders have significantly expanded, which has enabled individuals to seek help who may not otherwise have access to care through financial, geographical, or other barriers. Virtual eating disorder care programs have been shown to be just as effective as traditional in-person treatment, with studies showing similar treatment outcomes between the two forms of care.
Within Health is your personal care team that works with you, from the comfort of your home, to treat your eating disorder. The team at Within promotes radical self-love, and self-acceptance, in their virtual treatment of eating disorders, with the hope that we can all find peace with the body we live in. If you think virtual eating disorder treatment would be a good option for you or your loved one, get in touch with the experienced care team at Within to discuss their virtual care program.
1. Dori Steinberg, Taylor Perry, David Freestone, Cara Bohon, Jessica H. Baker & Erin Parks (2023) Effectiveness of delivering evidence-based eating disorder treatment via telemedicine for children, adolescents, and youth, Eating Disorders, 31:1, 85-101, DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2022.2076334
2. Levinson, C. A., Spoor, S. P., Keshishian, A. C., & Pruitt, A. (2021). Pilot outcomes from a multidisciplinary telehealth versus in-person intensive outpatient program for eating disorders during versus before the Covid-19 pandemic. The International journal of eating disorders, 54(9), 1672–1679. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.23579