Online Training for Eating Disorders Professionals

100% of participants felt such training was worthwhile.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
January/February Volume 27, Number 1
©2016 iaedp

The Australian medical system poses challenges for people seeking eating disorders treatment and for professionals as well. First, most eating disorders treatment is provided by clinicians in general practice, in community clinics or hospitals. And, since most care is only available in urban areas, many patients live far from specialized care. Another element in care for people with EDs is dealing with the lack of empathy and stereotypical images of patients and their families. Such stigma poses a serious barrier to patients seeking and receiving effective treatment.

Dr. Rachel S. Brownlow and colleagues at the University of Sydney and the University’s Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders (CEDD) recently had an idea: Why not use the Internet to provide training for healthcare professionals treating people with eating disorders (J Eat Disord. 2015. 3:37)? After all, there is growing evidence that internet-based medical education works well in other areas (J Contin Educ Health Prof. 2004.24:20; Int J Eat Disord. 2013.46:508; JAMA.2005. 294:1043) and has been well accepted by clinicians.

Finding professionals for the study

The authors recruited participants online, via websites and a list serve. Health professionals from Australia and other countries, including Indonesia and the US, provided informed consent to participate in the study and were given 6 months to complete the online training. During the 6-month period from July 2012 to October 2013, 187 health professionals completed the online training program.

The online program was composed of 5 modules: understanding eating disorders, diagnosis, preparing patients for treatment, treatment, and management. Each 3.5-hr module used text-based psychoeducation, role-playing, interactive exercises and tests, as well as videos of patients with eating disorders and their families. Each of the modules also contained a core curriculum and an in-practice section.

All participants had to complete a pre-training questionnaire and post-training evaluation once they completed the modules. They were also asked a series of 10 questions that explored their ability to assess and treat people with eating disorders; questions also examined the professionals’ attitudes and beliefs about people with an eating disorder. The mean age range of participants was 31 to 40 years of age and most (91.4%) were female.

The 187 participants completed the entire program and all pre- and post-program questionnaires. Psychologists made up 34.6% of study participants; 22.7% were nurses; 19.5% were dietitians; and 9.2% were social workers. More than half were employed in community health or mental health centers (40.2%), and 62.3% practiced in a metropolitan area. The remaining 36.8% worked in a rural or regional health care center. Nearly half of the participants reported that they didn’t have the necessary skills to great eating disorders patients; another 34% said there were not enough resources obviable to help them adequately treat these tents. Only 2.7% indicated that they did not like treating people with eating disorders because treatment was too time-consuming.

Training changed misconceptions and increased confidence

Overall, the online training program worked very well, according to the authors. Knowledge and skill levels improved, and after completing the online training program, participants also held significantly less stigmatizing beliefs toward the eating disorders and felt more confident in treating eating disorders patients. This applied to all subtypes of eating disorders. Overall, the program earned positive self-report reviews, and 96.2% of respondents indicated that their current clinical practice had improved as a result of finishing the online learning program. The results showed that 98.4% of the respondents felt the online program had met their expectations; 99.5% indicated that the program was relevant or highly relevant to their practice; and 95.8% reported that the program met their needs. All said they would recommend the online learning program to other health professionals.

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