Choosing a treatment program for individuals suffering from an eating disorder has been a challenging, frustrating and sometimes dangerous endeavor. As the conditions are often complex requiring multidisciplinary intervention, an international professional society has issued a patient’s bill of rights providing consumers with a laundry list of basic program components.
Eating disorders are conditions that affect an estimated 30 million Americans, most of them young women. For 2 million, symptoms will progress to full-blown anorexia nervosa and approximately 10 percent will die from the disease. Treatment is often complex and typically involves not only the patient, but friends and family as well.
The Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), which created the bill of rights, warns that in recent years treatment programs have flourished which can make choosing among treatment options difficult for parents and patients.
Dr. Cynthia Bulik, AED fellow, distinguished professor of eating disorders in the department of psychiatry and director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, said patients and their parents should know three things:
— Where can I get a thorough evaluation by knowledgeable providers? The first step is a thorough assessment by qualified professionals who can help the patient and family decide the best level of care, because not all patients require inpatient treatment. This assessment should cover medical, psychological and social aspects of the illness.
— What is the background of the treatment providers? Anorexia nervosa can have serious physical and psychological complications that should be treated by professionals who have advanced clinical training and experience in treating eating disorders.
— What is the treatment plan and what evidence is there that it has the best likelihood of being successful? Patients and their parents need to understand what treatment involves and how progress will be evaluated. Often referred to as “evidence-based medicine,” interventions should be based on results of scientific studies, published in peer-reviewed medical journals.
“When families are paying thousands of dollars a day for inpatient or residential treatment, they should feel empowered to ask for data showing that the services they are paying for are based on sound scientific evidence and have been shown to be effective. Given the seriousness of these illnesses, make sure that appropriate medical coverage and psychological treatment are provided,” cautions Dr. Bulik.
The “Worldwide Charter for Action on Eating Disorders,” the patient’s bill of rights for treatment of eating disorders developed by the AED, also addresses the need for the worldwide treatment community to provide high quality and fully-funded care. For more information, visit http://www.aedweb.org/
“There is certainly room for a spectrum of treatment approaches, but patients and families need to be fully informed about their options,” said Eric F. van Furth, PhD, FAED. Dr Eric van Furth is the clinical director of the Centre for Eating Disorders Ursula in Leidschendam, The Netherlands as well as president of AED.