Treating eating disorders (EDs) can be challenging, often resulting in non-response, high dropout rates, and relapses. To improve treatment protocols and outcomes, it’s crucial to identify factors that influence response and long-term recovery. One important aspect to consider is the level of care patients receive during treatment.
Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) are commonly used for individuals who haven’t made enough progress in outpatient ED treatment or require regular monitoring due to behavioral or medical instability. Research shows that PHP is effective for many patients and offers cost-effective and comparable outcomes to inpatient and residential treatment. However, not all patients achieve recovery in PHP settings, leading some to seek admission to a higher level of care (HLOC) like inpatient hospitalization or residential treatment.
While PHP settings are increasingly popular, there is limited research on outcome predictors in these environments. Most studies focus on specific treatment settings such as inpatient or outpatient, neglecting PHP and other stepped-level of care settings. Therefore, further research is needed to validate existing findings and identify other variables that impact ED treatment outcomes in PHP.
Previous research has identified several baseline variables that predict treatment outcomes, including body mass index (BMI), binge/purge episodes, motivation to recover, shape/weight concern, comorbidities, and interpersonal functioning. Age as a predictor has shown inconsistent results, with some studies indicating younger age as favorable, while others show older age or no association. Temperament traits like novelty seeking, harm avoidance, and reward dependence also play a role in predicting clinical improvement. Emotion dysregulation has emerged as a critical factor in ED development, with better regulation skills indicating positive outpatient treatment outcomes.
Besides identifying favorable predictors, it’s equally important to recognize variables that indicate poor prognosis. Higher eating pathology at the start of treatment, along with anxiety and depression, has consistently shown worse ED treatment outcomes. General anxiety and social anxiety, in particular, predict poor end-of-treatment psychopathology in residential settings. Higher depression scores and the presence of major depression also contribute to more episodes of binge eating and purging. Longer illness duration and lower BMI at baseline are additional indicators of poor prognosis.
While general predictors for unfavorable outcomes are well-established, little research focuses on patients who start with PHP but require a higher level of care later on. As PHP treatment becomes more popular, understanding which patients will benefit and identifying those who may need a HLOC is vital. By identifying PHP patient characteristics that necessitate a HLOC, supplemental programs can be implemented in PHP settings to support individuals with severe eating pathology, potentially preventing the need for a higher level of care.
Considering the scarcity of literature on outcome predictors in PHP and the lack of research on unfavorable outcomes, this study aims to characterize PHP patients who require a higher level of care and identify predictors for their transition. The study examines demographic and baseline clinical characteristics, comparing patients who move to a higher level of care with those who are suitable for PHP. Additionally, this exploratory study assesses previously identified predictors of treatment outcomes, such as anxiety, depression, eating pathology, illness duration, age, and BMI, as potential indicators for patients needing a higher level of care.