Treating the Whole Patient 

Comprehensive Health Care

 

By Tonia Twichell

Crickett Davis’ right knee was acting up again.

A veteran of multiple knee surgeries including a recent left knee replacement, Davis was also dealing with asthma and a new diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder on top of family and work troubles.

When she arrived at A.F. Williams Family Medicine Center in Stapleton for her regular appointment, her doctor offered a service she didn’t expect.

“Dr. Kim (Insel, MD) asked me if I felt I needed some counseling,” Davis says. “She felt I might need more than she could help me with so she suggested Shandra.”

More than two years later, Davis and Shandra Brown Levey, PhD, the clinic’s director of behavioral health integration, are still meeting.

“We clicked right away,” Davis says.

A.F. Williams had already been providing integrated health services when Deb Seymour, PsyD, the clinic’s former director of behavioral health education, joined the practice more then 20 years ago. Then, it was a one-woman effort, but the value of counseling in a primary care setting became obvious quickly.

“In my 20 years at A.F. Williams there were at least 200 times I prevented someone from unnecessarily going to the emergency room,” says Seymour, who is now the Foundations of Doctoring Associate Director for Communications Skills in Undergraduate Medical Education. Patients suffering from anxiety, depression, panic and suicidal thoughts can often be treated in a primary care setting, where they can get immediate help, Seymour and Brown Levey say.

A staff of counselors including doctoral and post-doctoral students also provides support for a range behavioral of issues including exercise and weight loss, alcoholism, drug addiction, and pain, disease and medication management.

“Anxiety and depression are one set of symptoms that can be detected and addressed but at least a third of the integrated primary care services pie is health behavior assistance,” Seymour says. “At least half of the reasons for illness and even death are attributable to behaviors. In integrated primary care settings, people can get the support they need to change behaviors that put them are risk.”

Many people would never seek out these services if they weren’t offered in primary care, says Brown Levey, an assistant professor at the School of Medicine.

“There is still some stigma associated with mental health issues so making the leap of going to a mental health center or a psychologist can be too much for some patients,” she says.

Davis, 67, says she appreciates being able to see Brown-Levey at her primary care clinic, and credits her support for helping her through some rough times.

“She always made me feel like I could talk to her about anything, and she inspires me not to give up.

“I feel like she likes me.”