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When Jonathan Avila, M.D., first encountered patients with eating disorders, his reaction was fear. But after learning to care for them during his fellowship training in adolescent medicine, he realized, “This is not rocket science. A lot of it is common sense.”
Despite this epiphany, Dr. Avila knows many pediatricians feel unprepared to care for patients struggling with eating disorders. So, he has made it his mission to empower them.
To that end, he will present an interactive workshop titled “Comprehensive Approach To Address Eating Disorders in Primary Care.”
“I'm really hopeful this dialogue will help close these gaps because the need is huge,” said Dr. Avila, clinical assistant professor at Stanford Medicine in California.
The session will be held from 2-3:30 p.m. PDT Saturday, Oct. 8 in room 205 of the convention center (I2440) and from 8:30-10 a.m. PDT Sunday, Oct. 9 in room 207AB (I3142). He will be joined by Mary Sanders, Ph.D., clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School.
Eating disorders are a complex condition that require a multidisciplinary approach, Dr. Avila said, noting the disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis with medical consequences.
He and Dr. Sanders aim to equip pediatricians with tools to provide medical management, with the understanding that patients also will need care from those with expertise in mental health and nutrition.
Dr. Avila has seen an increase in patients seeking treatment for eating disorders at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital since the pandemic began. He recalls caring for 21 inpatients, while the unit has only 15 beds.
He also was getting numerous calls from general pediatricians who rarely saw patients with eating disorders prior to the pandemic but were seeing several per month and felt ill-equipped to care for them.
One of the goals of the session, Dr. Avila said, is to help pediatricians provide medical management in their offices for patients who are waiting to get into a specialty program.
“I'm hoping that patients don't get to that point where they need to be in the hospital, and I'm hoping that the workshop is going to help with that,” he said.
A key element of managing eating disorders is helping parents know how to help their children. Pediatricians, therefore, may be in the best position to help families because they often have cared for youths since they were babies and have a family’s trust, Dr. Avila said.
“It can be very fulfilling professionally and personally for the pediatrician to be able to offer that for their patients,” he said.
The session will be interactive, with attendees working in groups on case scenarios that address initial to long-term management.
Dr. Avila is confident pediatricians are up to the challenge.
“You can do this in the medical office,” he said. “You're not necessarily treating the eating disorder from a psychological standpoint, but you're able to have a vital role in the recovery of your patient.”