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A provider discusses treatment options with their patient
June 29, 2023

Which Approach Is Right for My Patient? Comparing Virtual and In-Person Eating Disorder Treatment Options

Healing from an eating disorder is a collaborative journey that often begins with a patient, their referring healthcare provider, and our specialty care professionals. It is imperative that, as a provider, you work to develop competency around eating disorder screening and early detection and act quickly after spotting the signs of issues around food, body image, weight, and/or eating. Eating disorders may begin innocently, but without intensive, evidence-based treatment, they can snowball into serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses.

Once you become aware of an eating disorder in your patient, you can also support them in determining the treatment setting that’s right for them. At Veritas Collaborative, our model of care is comprehensive, empirically based, and refined by the clinical judgment of experts in the field. It is also tailored to what each patient needs. Although eating disorders share many features across individuals, recovery looks different for each person, and treatment must take a number of factors into account, including individual life circumstances, history, co-occurring conditions, motivation to recover, symptomology, and illness presentation. No matter the level of care or treatment format (in-person or virtual), patients at Veritas can expect superior treatment modalities and support from each member of our multidisciplinary treatment team.

We will provide your patient with a level of care recommendation following their scheduled intake appointment and eating disorder assessment. While Veritas’ professionals ultimately determine the level of care, your patient may have the opportunity to choose whether they receive treatment in-person or virtually. There is no “right” answer regarding the best fit here. Each approach comes with a variety of benefits, and research within the field backs their comparable efficacy and clinical outcomes. What is most important is that the choice made will suit your patient’s needs and will serve them throughout the process.

As your patient is considering treatment approaches, here are some of the questions they may want to ask themselves to help guide their decision.

What setting would be the most recovery-promoting for me?

No matter the setting, Veritas’ treatment team is committed to helping each unique patient nurture self-compassion, resilience, and empowerment, supporting them as they hone the skills and strategies they’ll need to cope with triggers and maintain recovery long-term.

That said, treatment works best in an environment conducive to recovery-focused behaviors. Through treatment, our patients are prioritizing their well-being, so we ask them to consider where they will be able to feel the most calm and present.

Does your patient’s home environment offer enough privacy, comfort, and safety to promote open, honest conversations? Some patients prefer receiving treatment in a space away from the routine and people of their everyday life. A neutral, on-site location can allow for additional comfort when sharing private information and create a needed sense of separation and intentionality for recovery. Moreover, a patient may live in a setting that triggers urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors, in which case in-person support may be preferential.

Alternatively, virtual care may be optimal if your patient is most comfortable in a familiar space to explore their relationship with food and body. Virtual care lets patients develop coping skills in real-time, in real-life – the environment where lasting recovery and relapse prevention take place. Additionally, virtual programs increase treatment access for individuals who have historically felt excluded from traditional in-person treatment programs, such as individuals living in larger bodies. Quality virtual programs such as our virtual CARE IOP for binge eating not only provides an inclusive setting, but also honors patients’ identities and experiences so they can feel reflected in their treatment.

Will a screen affect my experience?

The prospect of opening up to someone about the details of a personal eating disorder experience can feel incredibly vulnerable – if not outright terrifying. Veritas recognizes both the privilege and responsibility of navigating this uncomfortable, extremely personal terrain, and our team is highly trained to build strong, supportive therapeutic alliances with our patients. If your patient is considering virtual vs. in-person treatment, have them consider how comfortable they are engaging on a personal level with others via technological means.

For some, particularly younger generations, virtual communication comes more naturally, while others may find it uncomfortable or forced and may respond better face-to-face. The added visual component of virtual care can be a trigger for some patients. If your patient suspects they may feel urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors post-video call, for example, it may behoove them to opt for in-person treatment.

Do I have any time or accessibility constraints?

Is the prospect of driving to an appointment (or even accessing transportation) a logistical nightmare for your patient? Attending treatment online means a lower time commitment as there is no need to commute to appointments. Virtual care offers minimal disruptions to daily life, which may be especially beneficial for those with hectic work or school schedules and/or family responsibilities. For those who live in more remote locations without eating disorder professionals, virtual treatment increases access by bringing expert care to those who need it.

At the same time, setting up recurring in-person appointments at a nearby place that serves your patient’s needs might work just as well. These time and accessibility constraints are necessary to consider, as treatment should work for your patient and add to their life, not the other way around.

There isn’t one “right” approach to eating disorder treatment. Veritas Collaborative is committed to providing care that supports each patient’s recovery needs. Talk to one of our professionals today at 612-402-3061 or refer a patient through our online form to learn more about the care we offer.