If you live in a country or health system where you can choose your own treatment providers that decision about your loved one’s care is perhaps the most important action of the process. The right clinical support can be the difference between recovery and chronic ill health. Not all clinicians are equally trained and experienced, and not every clinician will be the right fit for your family’s needs. You will probably find that different providers give you very different information about the illness, your treatment options, and prognosis.
Unfortunately, there is no foolproof method for researching and engaging in treatment.
It is important to seek evidence-based care, to identify a coordinated team of providers, to know what types of clinicians treat eating disorders, to be familiar with the levels of care available, and to understand the philosophical approach of each clinic and clinician.
Ways to find eating disorder specialists:
Tips for choosing care providers:
- Does the clinic specialize in eating disorders or do they treat a range of mental health issues? (Eating disorders require a high level of specific expertise and ongoing training)
- Does the clinic include medical, psychiatric, psychological, and dietician care? (Eating disorder treatment is multidisciplinary in nature and patients must be followed by a range of specialists)
- Are the providers in the clinic working in a team, or do they only share facilities? (Coordination of care for eating disorders is important)
- Are the providers full or part-time? (Eating disorder treatment requires continuity of care and availability of appointments over a long period)
- How are parents and siblings involved in care?
- Who is responsible, during treatment, for meal planning, preparation, and monitoring?
- What roles do weight restoration and normalized eating play in treatment? (Although in the past eating disorder treatment often involved insight and psychological progress before it addressed food and eating it is now considered necessary to address eating and weight normalization before psychological treatment)
- Does the clinic offer a range of “levels of care?” (Patients often need to change levels of care over time and coordination between levels is best done without changing providers)
- What specific training do the providers have in eating disorders? (None of the professions that treat eating disorder patients require training in eating disorders and there is no specific certification, boards, or minimum experience that makes a clinician an eating disorder specialist. “Eating disorder expert” is a self-designation.
- Does the clinic provide statistics on treatment success for their clinic, or for the methods they use? (Are those statistics based on outside review and peer-reviewed research?)
- Does the clinic offer “evidence-based” care? (Evidence-based means there is rigorous research to support its use with eating disorders. Most eating disorder treatment available is not “evidence-based.”)
- How does the clinic involve families in the treatment process? Are parents considered part of the treatment team? What privacy rules does the provider follow? (Eating disorder treatment that involves the family is now considered to be the most effective. Not all providers do so, however, due to historical and practical and often legal issues. Increasingly, eating disorder treatment providers are seeing parents and siblings and partners as integral to treatment success.)
- If the treatment provider is not part of a specialist clinic, how do they coordinate care with other members of the treatment team? Is it the responsibility of the family or the treatment provider to establish a treatment team? (Treatment coordination is not generally paid for by health insurance)
- Is the clinic a for-profit or non-profit institution? Is it affiliated with a research or academic hospital?
- What is the fee structure for treatment? Are email, phone calls, communication with other team members, communication with family, and group sessions free of charge? Does the provider accept and/or submit claims for your insurance plan? Are you willing to pay ‘out of pocket’ if your insurance does not cover the service?
- What is the clinic’s philosophy around the cause of eating disorders? (This is a controversial issue and answers vary a great deal. It is important for families to do their own research on this topic and evaluate the providers’ philosophical approach carefully; some providers still practice under the belief that parents cause or contribute to eating disorders, believe eating disorders are a sign of trauma or abuse, and other unfounded concepts.)
- What facilities does the provider or clinic refer families to when a higher or lower level of care is indicated?