The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

Telemental Health: Using Technology to Overcome Barriers to Eating Disorder Recovery


The highly specified nature of eating disorder care lends an important fact about treatment: Evidence-based eating disorder treatments are as complex as the disorders themselves and require well-trained and experienced clinicians to provide such specialized care. However, the complex and specialized nature of treatment yields one of the main challenges facing the field of eating disorder care today: There simply aren’t enough available providers to meet the needs of patients, and those qualified to offer evidence-based treatment tend to be concentrated in urban areas.1,2

Barriers to Quality Care

Eating disorders, on average, affect at least 30 million Americans of all ages and genders.3 Several effective treatments for eating disorders exist that have been shown to greatly improve physical health and mental wellbeing in a majority of patients. Evidence-based treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and family-based therapy are designed to target specific concerns within particular eating disorder diagnoses and populations.4 But for patients with eating disorders living in rural areas, there are few treatment options. As a result, they are often forced to make difficult decisions, choose between less than optimal options, and deal with potentially negative consequences such as:

  • Traveling far distances to available specialty providers
  • Sacrificing excessive time away from school or work
  • Paying for travel in addition to treatment
  • Receiving lower level care from a provider with no experience or specialized training in the treatment of eating disorders
  • Opting to not get treatment at all and continuing to suffer with the serious consequences of an eating disorder.
One potential solution to the lack of readily accessible care for eating disorders is telemedicine, also known as telepsychology or telemental healthcare. 

Telemedicine allows clinicians to deliver specialized care to patients in a remote location via videoconferencing. In the field of general health care, telemedicine has existed for decades as a means to provide treatment to patients who could not travel to qualified providers. In this format, a patient can receive the same high-quality care they would from a specialist treatment center remotely in the comfort of their own home. Telemedicine is a relatively new method for eating disorder treatment, but research studies have shown its effectiveness to be practically equivalent to that of traditional face-to-face therapy.5

Though more research is needed to support this method of delivering therapy, the existing studies show that eating disorder treatment delivered through telemedicine can lead to positive outcomes such as:

  • The establishment of a healthy weight1,6
  • Decreased concerns about shape and weight1,2
  • Positive relationships with the providing clinician5

Disadvantages of telemedicine typically include technological difficulties,7 though rapid improvements in communication technology will likely combat issues found in past telemedicine research.8

Telemental Health offers a path to high-quality treatment for individuals affected by eating disorders who otherwise might not have access to it.

The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt now offers telemental health services for patients who live far distances from our offices. Dr. Jennifer Moran and Dr. Ekaterina Amarando are trained and licensed to provide psychotherapy for patients located in the state of Maryland, and Dr. Meghan Gaare is trained and licensed to provide psychiatric care for patients in the states of Maryland and Virginia.

For inquiries related to receiving telemedicine care, please call (410)-938-5252, or visit CED Telemental Health Program.

 


Written by: 
PHOTO Jacquelyn PattonJacquelyn Patton, Research Assistant
Jacquelyn is a graduate student currently pursuing her Masters in Clinical Psychology at Towson University, with the intent to earn her degree in May 2020. She received her Bachelors of Science in Psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2017. As an undergraduate, Jacquelyn served as a research assistant for the Center for Addiction, Personality, and Emotions Research where she conducted a study examining the impact of racism and racial/ethnic identity formation on health-risk behaviors, including disparate patterns of substance use. She joined the research team at CED as a volunteer research assistant in 2018, working under the supervision of Dr. Sproch. In this role, Jacquelyn is currently researching the utility and efficacy of telemedicine in the treatment of eating disorders.

 


References

1. Anderson, K. E., Byrne, C. E., Crosby, R. D., & Le Grange, D. (2017). Utilizing telehealth to deliver family-based treatment for adolescent anorexia nervosa. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50, 1235-1238. doi:10.1002/eat.22759

2. Simpson, S., Bell, L., Britton, P., Mitchell, D., Morrow, E., Johnston, A. L., & Brebner, J. (2006). Does video therapy work? A single case series of bulimic disorders. European Eating Disorders Review, 14, 226-241. doi:10.1002/erv.686

3. Eating Disorder Statistics. (2018). National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.anad.org/education-and-awareness/about-eating-.disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

4. Yager, J., Devlin, M. J., Halmi, K. A., Herzog, D. B., Mitchell, J. E., Powers, P., & Zerbe, K. J. (2006). Practice guidelines for the treatment of patients with eating disorders. (3rd ed.) Retrieved from https://psychiatryonline.org/pb/assets/raw/sitewide/practice_guidelines/guideline s/eatingdisorders.pdf

5. Mitchell, J. E., Crosby, R. D., Wonderlich, S. A., Crow, S., Lancaster, K., Simonich, H., … & Myers, T. C. (2008). A randomized trial comparing the efficacy of cognitive–behavioral therapy for bulimia nervosa delivered via telemedicine versus face-to-face. Behaviour research and therapy46, 581-592. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2008.02.004

6. Goldfield, G. S., & Boachie, A. (2003). Delivery of family therapy in the treatment of anorexia nervosa using telehealth. Telemedicine Journal and E-Health, 9, 111–114.  doi:10.1089/153056203763317729

7. Chakrabarti, S. (2015). Usefulness of telepsychiatry: A critical evaluation of videoconferencing-based approaches. World Journal of Psychiatry, 5, 286-304. doi:10.5498/wjp.v5.i3.286

8. Waugh, M., Voyles, D., & Thomas, M. R. (2015). Telepsychiatry: Benefits and costs in a changing health-care environment. International Review of Psychiatry27, 558–568. doi:10.3109/09540261.2015.1091291