About the RHED-C project
The COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented reliance upon online technologies; both for social connectedness with friends and family, and to facilitate remote health treatment, including treatment for Eating Disorders (EDs). This research investigates the impact of this rapid transition to online communication and remote treatment, and what this can teach us to help improve future remote care.
Lockdown and ‘social distancing’ restricted our physical interaction with others, as a result technology has risen to the forefront of our daily lives. Our preliminary research shows that individuals with experience of EDs have experienced worsening symptoms during the pandemic and ED services have reported a significant increase in individuals seeking help and support. Potential reasons include increased social isolation, restricted access to support networks, media exposure, disruption to daily activities and physical activity. These environmental issues are likely to affect psychological factors linked to ED symptoms.
Identifying the factors contributed to worsening of ED symptoms during the pandemic can help us to further understand environmental, social and psychological drivers of ED symptoms and identify potential protective factors which may moderate this relationship (e.g., social support).
The pandemic forced healthcare services to make a rapid transition to remote healthcare delivery using technology and online platforms. Some healthcare services struggled to provide the provisions for remote services, particularly at the start of lockdown. When remote services were available, service users found themselves suddenly thrown into a world of video calls and other somewhat alien, online services. Although remote services have valuable benefits (including increased access for individuals who may not otherwise be able to access treatment), service users reported concerns around the suitability of the technology used to deliver these services during the current pandemic. You can read more about this in our paper.
The move to increased online services also pose other risks for service users, including risks to patient privacy and security of their healthcare data. This is something that online resources may not have had time to address appropriately given the rapid transition driven by the pandemic. Our early findings, along with other emerging research, suggest that there are lessons to be learned and action to be taken if future remote treatment is to be safe and effective. It also indicates a lack of suitable technology and/or functionality at the time of the rapid transition to remote treatment. There is a need for technological solutions to be designed with greater consideration of the factors underpinning EDs development, progression and successful prevention/treatment. Poorly designed interventions or consultations-through-technology which are not informed by understanding of underlying ED mechanisms may have unintended consequences that are detrimental rather than beneficial.
Whilst the pandemic provides a valuable opportunity to explore and reflect on the design and delivery and evaluation of remote healthcare services. The research results will be applicable more widely, and certainly not limited to circumstances around COVID-19.
Effective online services are vital for individuals who may be unable, or unwilling, to access traditional face-to-face services. Pre-pandemic, healthcare services were already adopting technology on an ever-increasing basis. Early reflection of lessons learned over the pandemic can be invaluable in ensuring that future online resources are designed to provide the maximum benefit for individuals experiencing EDs.