AF Williams Bridging Gap Between Primary Care and Mental Health



As health care leaders encourage the adoption of integrated models of health care, University of Colorado Hospital’s AF Williams Family Medicine clinic is working to integrate behavioral health services within their clinic.  At AF Williams, the psychology team that includes attending psychologists, post-doctoral fellows, and residents, works alongside the primary care providers (PCPs) to address the mental health needs of patients as well as behaviors that affect their physical health. Health psychologist, Abbie Beacham, Ph.D. says, “Psychologists traditionally have been involved only in mental health. That’s necessary, but not sufficient for primary care, where we need to take care of the whole person. We’re doing a better job of not being siloed and of working within a team and the whole health care system.” For AF Williams, integrating primary care and behavioral health services was an obvious extension of their efforts to develop a patient-centered medical home. Now the psychology team is available to screen patients for depression and anxiety and immediately offer them help. They are also able to help patients with chronic illnesses such as hypertension to reduce their salt intake, get more exercise, and take their medications. Like most integrated primary care clinics, AF Williams faces barriers such as financing these services. However, Dr. Beacham is optimistic that this will change if PCPs and psychologists continue to create common ground as they have at AF Williams. “If psychologists are introduced as part of a team that is working with physicians to help people with smoking, sleep management, and so on, patients will go with the model,” she says. “As time goes on, it will be a normal part of people’s care, and something they look for.”

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