New Virtual Program Delivers Evidence-Based Eating Disorder Treatment for Families
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Equip, in-network to Horizon members in August, looks to make gold-standard eating disorder treatment more accessible using virtual care teams. See how they do it.
For the past 30 years, it’s been assumed that treating an eating disorder meant sending someone away to a residential center — if you could find or afford treatment.
But the evidence hasn’t borne these assumptions out. There’s no data linking residential centers to long-term recovery, and upwards of 50 percent of people relapse after returning home.1,2
“When you go to a residential center, it’s difficult to build a life you actually want to return to,” said Kristina Saffran, co-founder and CEO of Equip. “The stresses are still waiting for you when you return home.”
Diagnosed with anorexia at age 10, Saffran has made it her life’s work to make eating disorder treatment accessible to everyone. Now, with Equip, she and co-founder Erin Parks, Ph.D., have done just that by bringing an innovative treatment model to the nearly five million Americans who are diagnosed with an eating disorder each year.
Equip offers Family-Based Treatment (FBT), the gold-standard care for eating disorders, through a five-person virtual care team. Starting in August, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey members will have Equip as an in-network option.
“Eating disorders truly need to be treated in a holistic way, addressing both physical health and mental health,” said Suzanne Kunis, Vice President of Behavioral Health at Horizon. “Equip shares our mission of delivering integrated care and our mutual goal of increasing access to evidence-based treatment.”
While some may be skeptical of a telemedicine approach for treating eating disorders, Equip’s outcomes show real promise. In a pilot study, 90 percent of their patients met their weight restoration goals after treatment, and 60 percent reduced their eating disorder symptoms.
“This treatment really does work,” Saffran said. “Full recovery is absolutely possible.”
What sets Equip apart
Equip provides all of its treatment virtually, so families can easily access appointments from home without leaving their lives behind. Equip is designed to replace the residential level of care and support families throughout their journey to really be the last treatment they will need.
Every patient gets assigned a dedicated, five-person care team, including a pediatrician or psychiatrist, dietitian, therapist, peer mentor and family mentor. Together, they deliver FBT care, which is proven to be the most effective form of treatment, but is currently used by less than 35 percent of eating disorder specialists, according to this study.
FBT is based on the radical idea that families play a crucial role in helping their child get better, educating and empowering them to create a healthier home environment without assigning blame.
The first order of business is helping the child get the right nourishment. While eating disorders are complex psychological illnesses, with strong genetic and brain chemistry underpinnings, they also exact a high physical toll on the body. That’s partly why they’re the second deadliest mental health condition.
FBT teaches parents how to take charge of their child’s nutrition, ensuring they’re eating the right amounts and not worrying about food all the time.
“People with eating disorders constantly think about food. But they’re also not getting the proper caloric intake. Combine those two things and their brains are literally not letting them get the benefits out of the rest of their therapy,” explained Dr. Parks, who is also the company’s chief clinical officer.
Everyone on the care team has a role. The family mentor is there to guide parents in their journey, just as the peer mentor shares their own experiences to help support and motivate the patients. “Hearing someone say, ‘I’ve been there, I get it’ can keep patients going and stay engaged,” Dr. Parks said.
A step forward for Horizon members
When Equip opens its virtual doors to Horizon members and their families in August, New Jersey will be the fourth state it has served since its founding in December 2019.
Equip provides treatment for the most common eating disorders, including:
- Anorexia nervosa, where people restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat
- Bulimia nervosa, where people eat large amounts of food followed by unhealthy purging, such as vomiting or using laxatives
- Binge eating disorder, where people lose control over their eating and regularly eat too much, even when they’re uncomfortably full or not hungry
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), where people develop a fear and avoidance of food, often out of fear of vomiting or choking
Equip currently treats people ages 6-24, since eating disorders often start in these early years. But the company is looking to expand to adults soon.
Horizon members don’t need a referral to participate in the Equip program. Simply visit https://equip.health/ to sign up.
Even for people with eating disorders who have tried other treatments and have not had the results they wanted, Equip’s unique, delivered-from-home approach may be the right option.
“No one should ever think they’re too broken or it’s impossible to get care,” Dr. Parks said. “Anyone with an eating disorder needs to know it’s not their fault.”
1. Khalsa, S. S., Portnoff, L. C., McCurdy-McKinnon, D., & Feusner, J. D. (2017). What happens after treatment? A systematic review of relapse, remission, and recovery in anorexia nervosa. Journal of Eating Disorders, 5(1), 20.
2. Friedman, Keren, et al. "A narrative review of outcome studies for residential and partial hospital-based treatment of eating disorders." European Eating Disorders Review, 24.4 (2016): 263-276.