NEW MILFORD — The regional health network has opened its first primary care practice within a hospital as a way to encourage more people to seek preventive care and, ultimately, to decrease the number of emergency room visits and hospital stays.

Dr. Peter Anderson, who has been a primary care doctor in New Milford for more than three decades, has joined the new practice at New Milford Hospital, which opened this spring. The practice saw about 500 patients in its first 11/2 months.

“A lot of health care is very disjointed,” said Dr. Thomas Koobatian, the hospital’s executive director and chief of staff.

“Unfortunately, it is the health care consumer who pays the price for it.

“We are really looking to keep people healthy and out of the hospital,” he said. “The way to do that is through good primary care and preventive care.”

The Western Connecticut Health Network spent about $2.1 million to equip the new practice and remodel about 4,700 square feet on the hospital’s first floor that used to house the laboratory.

Each of the nine exam rooms has medical equipment to take vital signs like weight and blood pressure and transmit that data electronically to the practice’s electronic medical records system. That system is accessible not only to the practice’s doctors and nurses, but also to those working at other primary care practices and at New Milford, Danbury and Norwalk hospitals.

Besides Anderson, Lindsey Laughinghouse, an advanced practice registered nurse, sees patients at the new practice. A second physician, Dr. David Lo, who recently finished his residency, will start work in July.

The practice also has a pulmonologist who sees patients twice a week. In August, a cardiologist will join the staff. The health network has embedded medical specialists at other primary care practices across the region, including Newtown and Southbury.

In New Milford, the older demographic means specialties like cardiology and pulmonology are in high demand.

“This model allows you to bring in specialists as required by the primary care populations to best serve their needs,” said Richard Gemming, executive director of the Western Connecticut Medical Group, which includes the network’s primary care practices.

Koobatian said medical students and residents will train at the practice. Anderson said there are plans to have a social worker at the office and to expand its hours.

Anderson closed his nearby private practice to start work in the hospital setting, bringing with him his 1,500 patients.

“My goal throughout practice both in private practice and here is to be what you would think of as an old-time family physician with modern technology and modern knowledge,” Anderson said. “I’m interested in people beyond how their blood pressure’s controlled.”