Patient perspectives on premature termination of eating disorder treatment: a systematic review and qualitative synthesis

16 Mar 2022
Cecilia Vinchenzo, Vanessa Lawrence and Catherine McCombie

Background: High rates of premature treatment termination are a well-reported issue in eating disorder treatment, and present a significant barrier for treatment effectiveness and longer term health outcomes of patients with eating disorders. Understanding patient perspectives on this phenomenon is essential in improving treatment completion rates and informing research and intervention development. The aim of this review is to synthesise qualitative litera- ture on patient perspectives of premature termination of eating disorder treatment and to summarise the key issues leading to discontinuation of treatment.

Methods: A systematic review of 1222 articles was conducted to identify studies using qualitative methods to inves- tigate patient experiences of prematurely terminating eating disorder treatment. Ten articles were included in the review, with thematic synthesis used to analyse the primary research and develop overarching analytical themes.

Results: Conflict around enmeshment of eating disorder with identity, and lack of support with reconstructing a sense of self without the eating disorder; challenges of managing pressures of social and clinical relationships while feeling unheard and misunderstood by both; expectations and disappointments around treatment; and dissatisfac- tion with progress were key themes behind premature termination of treatment.

Conclusions: The findings of this review demonstrate the key issues influencing the decision to end treatment early, highlighting the contribution of individual, environmental, and service-level factors. Implications of these factors are discussed and suggestions raised for future research and service development.