National Eating Disorders Association
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4 Ways Providers Can Create a Safe Space for Patients

Melissa Szocik, PA-C

The value of relationships cannot be understated. The relationship the patient has with their bodies and their health care providers are two of the most crucial. So many have felt isolated and ashamed and being able to step into a truly "judgment-free zone" with a provider can be life changing. When a patient leaves the office with an inclusive, engaging care plan, there is a visible lightness about them! With that lightness comes long-term positive changes in health. 

Here are four ways that you, as a provider, can create a safe space for patients: 

1. Know yourself 

Reflect on your own experiences both the personal and professional. Who do you know who has had an eating disorder? How would you want them to be treated?  What is your current understanding around eating disorders? Do you have your own misconceptions or biases?

Check out Balint Groups, a support system for providers to look at our personal connections with our clinical work. 

2. Know the surrounding resources 

What nutritionists and behavioral health resources are around? When patients come in and a treatment plan is being developed, having multi-specialty contacts is key. Not only do we know it is needed, but it’s also an effective way for a patient to no longer feel isolated. Knowing how many people are out there interested in helping is an instant source of hope for both patients and families.

3. Be truly open

You need to connect with patients to understand how you can help them in their now. Do take time to truly listen. Get curious and not furious. If you are not understanding something, ask questions and repeat things back to check in with a patient. This may be the most in-depth conversation this patient has ever has ever had on the topic. They could be processing their own thoughts and feelings right in front of you. Giving them a safe space for this important part. You will learn what you will need to individualize intervention and your patient will feel empowered to take those crucial next steps in their treatment.

4. Stay in touch

It’s easy in a busy clinic to see a patient, send some referrals, and then move on. Be better than that. Embrace the coordinated care team concept. Ensure that you have the lines of communication open between the patient, their specialists, and their loved ones. Introduce your nurse or MA to the patient as a member of the care team. Reach out to the patient regularly for a status updates. These gestures will keep the conversation going, and puts the patient in center of a sincerely supportive care plan. 

Our job as providers is to help make the right thing easier to do and to think about both the short term and long term health of our patients. By checking our misunderstandings around eating disorders, educating ourselves in resources, listening with open hearts, and being truly present for patients, we can save lives together. 

Melissa Szocik, PA-C has been practicing Family Medicine in Seattle Washington since 2006. She was first a medical group member of Group Health Permanente, now Washington Permanente Medical Group. What she loves most in her work are the rewarding relationships she forms and the ability to work in a model of care that puts patients' health first.