What Your Clients Can Expect from Our Virtual IOP
“Virtual IOP was exactly what I needed...constant pushing from my therapist and dietitian keeps me trying to recover; the group held me more accountable – to myself AND them. The safe space the group provided as well as dedicated time in the skills group pushed me to sit, be aware, be present, be mindful, be introspective, to reflect and be conscious of things that are too painful...hearing others express their coping mechanisms and values allowed me support and gave me ways to reframe or better verbalize and identify my feelings.” Erin, Virtual IOP Patient
Since 2016, Eating Recovery Center (ERC) has worked to expand healthcare and treatment services for patients through virtual treatment, helping them receive the intensive care they need no matter their location. ERC has since treated more than 6,000 patients virtually and has the only published research documenting the efficacy of Virtual IOP for eating disorder patients.
What is Virtual IOP?
A Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program for patients with eating disorders models the experience patients receive at ERC’s numerous on-site programs, but with added benefits regarding convenience and flexibility. ERC’s eight-week program involves roughly 11 hours per week of evidence-based treatment with licensed, specialized and trained professionals to help interrupt symptoms and build a foundation of resilience that can support patients as they move on to life outside treatment.
Virtual IOP enables patients to receive care in the privacy of their own home, or dorm room, without the need to commute or travel. ERC’s peer-reviewed and published study on clinical outcomes, paired with consistent, ongoing feedback from patients, reinforces that the virtual experience is as valid, effective, community-based and accountability-focused as on-site treatment.
Deborah M. Michel, PhD, CEDS-S, FAED, National Clinical Director of Virtual Care at ERC, states: “It really mirrors what we do on-site with the added benefits of convenience and flexibility; virtual care is such a critical way to help remove barriers to care.”
Clinical Dietician Madeline Brown RDN, LDN adds that virtual care can, in fact, be an even more comfortable experience for some patients. “We see patients who feel more able to connect because they don't have the in-person body or physical comparison.”
ERC is also unique in offering three distinct Virtual IOP programs for Eating Disorders:
- Adult Eating Disorder Treatment
- Adult Binge Eating Disorder Treatment
- Child & Adolescent Eating Disorder Treatment
Programming & Treatment Modalities
ERC offers a consistent continuum of care by using the same dietitian and therapist throughout the course of treatment with a pod of six to eight patients. Following an initial assessment and admittance to the program, patients have a one-time, thorough intake session, 9 hours of group therapy, 30 to 45 minutes of meeting with their dietitian, and continuous individual or family therapy each week.
ERC uses evidence-based treatment modalities in all programming, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), Family-Based Therapy (FBT), and Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT). Over the past 6 years of offering virtual care, programming has specifically incorporated research and patient experience feedback to maximize the care experience.
Casey Tallent, PhD, Director of Collegiate and Telebehavioral Health Initiatives, adds, “We also offer several family support offerings including 3 weekly family FBT groups. All our providers work in tandem with outpatient providers to ensure the best outcomes for our patients and outpatient providers.”
What to Expect During Intake
During the intake process, the dietitian and therapist familiarize themselves with the patient: exploring what has changed since the initial assessment, what the patient’s living situation is like and the logistics of eating — including who is typically around the patients, if they have access to food and a kitchen, what their financial situation is, etc.
When the intake concludes, therapists and dietitians collaborate with patients to identify goals and create an individualized treatment plan. Brown shares, “I ask my patients, ‘What do you want out of Virtual IOP’ since everyone's care is unique to them. So I set treatment goals with the patient, and then we go from there.”
In understanding the impact of families, friends, and loved ones in the treatment and recovery process, ERC uses a family-based therapeutic approach: setting goals in collaboration with the patient themselves, family members or caregivers, and both dietitian and therapist to ensure consistent care and support. Throughout the process, adolescents are required to have a caregiver present for mealtimes.
Opportunities for Connection & Community
Three times a week, patients meet in a clinician-led virtual group setting for three-hour sessions. These sessions are focused on teaching skills, processing emotions and learning adaptive coping patterns, and meal therapy, which provides concrete education and establishes structure. Adults also take part in a cooking group: each person cooks a meal in a kitchen alongside their group members and the dietitian. Adolescents additionally learn more about anatomy and health through an eating disorder and trauma-informed nurse.
Anne Maguire, LCSW, CEDS, Clinical Manager for Adult Eating Disorders, notes that the virtual setting lends itself well to reacting to patients in the moment. She says, “It gives you the ability to completely pivot. While they’re doing a mindfulness activity, I can pull up a new file on a whim, to really address their needs. I think that's the biggest thing. We want to cater to their needs.”
In group therapy, ERC therapists and dietitians are the guides, but much of the work is focused on shared experiences and peer support. Brown shares, “I’m not a ‘fixer;’ I'm a listener. I'm here to be a partner in care. We have our patients support each other...they can have shared experiences of yes, that's happened to me too -- and here's how I handled it.”
Individual Therapy and Support
For 30-45 minutes each week, patients check in one-on-one with their registered dietitian, reviewing goals and addressing any changes in medical monitoring. Patients also see their therapist for 45 minutes a week. Some weeks will address homework, or how it has been to practice a certain coping skill that week. Sessions can also focus on addressing a behavior that a patient engaged in, or a remark from a family member.
Throughout the entire eight weeks, the dietitian and therapist work in partnership and are in constant contact: meaning, all information is shared to streamline and enhance communication and progress. Outpatient providers, dietitians, and therapists are updated on meal plans, progress, and more along the way.
Medical Technology and Digital App Support
Patients receive an at-home medical monitoring kit with remote patient monitoring devices – with a numberless scale and blood pressure cuff to use for the duration of treatment. This enables a convenient and effective way to obtain blind weights and vitals.
Additionally, all Virtual IOP patients utilize the Recovery Record App throughout programming, which allows them to log meals, behaviors, and overall mood. The app is used to communicate with the dietitian and therapists between sessions and serves as a helpful tool in tracking progress throughout treatment. Outpatient providers can access the Recovery Record App with their patients for one year at no cost following Virtual IOP treatment for continuity of care.
Family & Friends Involvement During Treatment
For adolescents, family is automatically involved in the Virtual IOP process – but adults can also have their families, friends, and support systems involved via family therapy sessions. We offer several family support offerings including 3 weekly family FBT groups. In addition to formal sessions, ERC also offers additional support to families with caregiver-focused support groups and a weekly educational Virtual Family & Friends Education Series. This ongoing family support for all patients enables caregivers to feel supported, as their loved one has more time to practice skills-based recovery strategies.
What to Expect After Virtual IOP
At ERC, a patient can seamlessly move up to a higher level of care if necessary or continue to their aftercare: seeing outpatient doctors to continue their recovery. ERC offers comprehensive aftercare support and alumni-based resources to help sustain recovery after treatment. The Alumni and Family Liaisons are a clinician-led team dedicated to supporting alumni and their family members throughout their journey: providing ongoing support via phone and email outreach, alumni events, support groups, social recovery communities, and other resources.
Learn More About Virtual IOP Services
To learn more about virtual treatment for your patients, reference the following resources:
- Virtual Care Overview Flyer
- Virtual IOP Video
- View list of more than 20 eligible states where we are offering Virtual IOP
Refer Your Patients to Virtual IOP Today
There are four easy and convenient ways to refer a patient: