Background: Hospitalisation for an eating disorder is rare, however treatment in the acute medical setting can be a life-saving admission. While the multidisciplinary team delivers overall patient care, medical decisions are the responsibility of the treating physicians. Treatment decisions directly impact on patient care and outcomes. This study aimed to explore the considerations that influence the medical decisions of physicians when treating patients with eating disorders in the acute setting.
Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten medical physicians who had previously treated eating disorders on a general medical unit in two Australian tertiary hospitals. An interview schedule, based on the literature and four relevant domains from the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research, was developed. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed thematically. Coding and interim themes and sub-themes were developed by two dietitian researchers; these were further refined through researcher discussion and triangulation with two additional dietitian researchers.
Results: Ten doctors were interviewed (3 consultants (1 adult general medical and 2 paediatricians: 13-16 years medical experience), 2 registrars (4-7 years experience), 1 resident (1 year experience), and 4 interns (< 1 year experience). Doctors described memorable patient cases, related to hospital stays over several weeks. Interviews ranged in length from 58 min to 91 min. Four themes (with five sub-themes) were developed: 1) navigating uncertainty (focusing on processes and goals and seeking information), 2) being "the good doctor" (doing the right thing), 3) seeing the big picture (depending on key players and considering short and long-term), and 4) involving family and patient.
Conclusions: Non-specialist physicians described challenges in the treatment of eating disorders in the inpatient setting. They take a holistic approach that considers both short and longer-term goals, relying on specialist colleagues, the wider multidisciplinary team and sometimes family members to guide treatment decisions during admissions on general medical wards. Additional support, education and training centered on the key themes may increase physicians' confidence and ability to make effective treatment decisions for this patient group. The results are relevant to all health professionals working in this field to better understand the priorities of medical physicians and to support them to achieve positive outcomes in the inpatient treatment of patients with eating disorders.