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New Pediatric Project Helps Primary Care Physicians Treat More Complex Pediatric Developmental and Behavioral Health Conditions

Primary care providers throughout New Jersey will be able to increase their capacity to effectively screen and treat children and adolescents for developmental and behavioral concerns by participating in the newly launched Robert Wood Johnson Partners Pediatric Developmental and Behavioral Health Project ECHO. Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is a collaborative model of medical education that builds relationships among a team of interdisciplinary specialists with pediatricians and primary care providers through videoconferencing sessions that are designed to help them treat more complex patients in the primary care setting.

The heart of Project ECHO is the proven hub-and-spoke knowledge-sharing model that creates long-term mentoring partnerships.

“This is not traditional telemedicine where a primary care physician calls in to a specialist and then is told what to do,” says Eric G. Jahn, senior associate dean for community health at Rutgers Medical School. “This is an exciting peer-to-peer collaboration and learning opportunity for our participants, some of whom are coming to us with 25 years of pediatric experience. After participating in several of these sessions, providers get a sense of how the specialists and their peers approach a case. As a result, they may not have to refer as often, or when they do refer, the patient’s care is already underway.”

“Pediatric behavioral health conditions are often hard to diagnose in a primary care setting,” said Dr. Malia Beckwith, hub lead from Children’s Specialized Hospital. “Project ECHO provides context and concrete examples that help pediatricians treat patients who have complex conditions. This enables early identification and treatment that can make a real difference with these patients.”

After participating in a few sessions, Heidi Fey, APN, from Special Needs Primary Care Hamilton, noted that “working out in the community, it’s easy to feel as though you’re on your own when it comes to helping patients and their families with complex behavioral issues. The Pediatric ECHO program has provided a great opportunity to connect with colleagues and learn useful information that I’ve been able to bring back and implement in my practice.”

More ECHOs coming soon

Pediatric behavioral health is one of three topics that RWJ Partners is offering. The second is a complex endocrinology. The third is chronic pain management, which is set to launch soon. All three ECHO clinics are funded by a two-year, $1.9 million grant from The Nicholson Foundation.

“We funded the RWJ Partners Project ECHO Academic Medical Center Hub so that much-needed specialty services are available to patients within the primary care setting when and where they need it most,” said Arturo Brito, executive director of The Nicholson Foundation.

The project is a statewide collaboration with Robert Wood Johnson Partners, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, RWJ Barnabas Health System, RWJ University Hospital, and Children’s Specialized Hospital.

Leaders of the RWJ Partners Pediatric Developmental and Behavioral Health Project ECHO clinic whose expertise is available to New Jersey primary care providers include Joanne Hunt, OTD, occupational therapist; Melissa Smith, CCC-SLP, speech-language pathologist; Elvira Downs, M.D., psychiatrist; Malia Beckwith, M.D., developmental pediatrician; Rosemary Browne, MSW, assistant division director, Children’s System of Care; Pat O’Hanlon, family advocate; and Heidi Spiegel, M.A., BCBA, applied behavior analyst.

How to register for RWJ Partners Project ECHO

Primary care providers can participate at no charge and join the clinics using their computer or mobile device. Weekly 60-minute sessions are held on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Participants can earn CME credits for each full session attended, and are asked to attend a minimum of 12 out of 48 ECHO clinic sessions over a period of one year. Participants may join on a rolling admission basis and choose the sessions that fit their schedule.

To learn more about RWJ Partners Project ECHO, visit

To inquire or register for the Pediatric Developmental Behavioral Health clinics, contact or visit

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