Treating the mind and body together - WellSpan Health News
WellSpan Home

WellSpan News

Previous Page

Treating the mind and body together

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mental health specialists integrated into medical group practices

”We know that people with medical problems get better faster—and stay better longer—if they also get treatment for their depression or anxiety. Allen Miller, Ph.D., director ofEach year, one in four Americans experiences a behavioral health illness or problem with substance abuse.

WellSpan Medical Group and WellSpan Behavioral Health Services are teaming up to put mental health specialists in medical group practices.

“This is more than just a co-location of services,” said Allen Miller, Ph.D., director of WellSpan Behavioral Health. “We’re integrating behavioral health clinicians into the treatment teams of Patient-Centered Medical Homes.”

The pilot program began in February at Apple Hill Internal Medicine and Wheatlyn Family Medicine. In the coming months, five more practices will be added.

“We know that people with medical problems get better faster—and stay better longer—if they also get treatment for their depression or anxiety,” Miller said.

The pilot program uses doctoral interns in clinical psychology. They go by the title “behaviorist” to soothe patients who might balk at seeing a psychologist.

Chris Echterling, MD, said he introduces a behaviorist just as he would a nurse or dietitian. “I say, ‘Hey, I have someone on my team who’s really helped other patients cope with this same kind of problem. I have great confidence they can help you, too. Would you like to meet him?’”

Echterling is an associate medical director for quality and innovation at WellSpan Medical Group. He also oversees Bridges to Health, a WellSpan program for people with a history of a high number of emergency department visits and hospitalizations. At Bridges to Health, a behaviorist has been helping patients since 2012.

Depression and anxiety are normal human responses to a difficult situation, Echterling noted. He spoke of a patient who was severely injured by a hit-and-run driver and remains unable to work. The man copes daily with physical pain and crushing financial pressure.

“Whether or not he had mental health issues before all this happened, he certainly has them now,” Echterling said.

Treating the mind and body together can yield significant results. A health system in Des Moines, Iowa, found that 79 percent of readmitted patients had a behavioral disorder complicating their physical condition. When psychologists intervened, the readmission rate fell 8 percent in just two months.

At WellSpan’s pilot sites, medical staff have become more adept at spotting and addressing behavioral problems, Echterling said.

“They talk to the behaviorist about how to handle one patient, and then they incorporate those techniques for future patients,” he explained.

Karen Jones, MD, FACP, is vice president and chief medical officer of WellSpan Medical Group. She believes this innovation will reduce costs and improve the patient experience.

The challenge, she said, will be convincing insurers, so the pilot program needs to produce measurable outcomes.

“The behavioral health piece of our care redesign is going to be huge,” Jones predicted. “This is absolutely where we need to go. The early signs are very promising.”

Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.


Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.