MedPearl: High-Tech Support for Behavioral Health Education and Referrals

About 40% of office visits for mental health concerns occur in primary care, and the trusted relationship with the primary care physician creates a strong opportunity for whole-person care. However, studies show that primary care providers don’t always feel equipped with the time or support needed to adequately address these needs.  

Providence built MedPearl, an AI-enabled system that provides clinical guidance at the point of care, as an education and referral platform integrated into its electronic health record to better support physicians. A new grant from Providence’s Well Being Trust is increasing behavioral health resources within the tool to meet growing demands. 

Teri Renfrow, director of MedPearl, Virtual Care and Digital Health

“We recognized that we had gaps in MedPearl’s library specific to behavioral health conditions and treatment strategies,” said Teri Renfrow, director of MedPearl, Virtual Care and Digital Health.  

The grant funded the development of 35 short videos and educational materials that can be viewed by patients and providers during the visit, to support decision-making for providers and understanding for patients. The new content better equips providers in primary and urgent care settings to handle symptoms themselves or know when and where to make referrals.  

Tom Rittman, MD, a psychiatrist and medical director of behavioral health at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center.

“One of the challenges that we encounter regarding referrals is that, in some cases, patients who are referred to a behavioral health specialist may not actually require an intensive level of care,” said Tom Rittman, MD, a psychiatrist and medical director of behavioral health at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Oregon. “If we can reduce the number of referrals that don’t actually require treatment from a psychiatrist or psychologist, that will increase the access for people that do.”  

The effort has already had an impact since its launch in February 2023.  

“We have received feedback that this really does help support primary and urgent care physicians and advanced practice providers to have better conversations and makes sure that when they refer out to specialists, they are referring appropriately, with the right work-up in the exam rooms – virtual and physical,” said Renfrow.  

One of the most remarkable areas of impact has been in improving medication-assisted therapy for opioid use disorder. MedPearl users showed a 13% increase in medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders in 2023.  

Dr. Rittman noted that Suboxone, a medication that works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as opiates to prevent cravings and reduce the risk of overdose, is one of the most evidence-based, life-saving interventions in health care.  

The resources and videos in MedPearl help patients know what to expect and offer guidance for the provider on managing treatment, while emphasizing that substance use disorder is a treatable disease to help neutralize stigma.  

“We are still very much in the midst of an opiate crisis with shockingly high numbers of opiate deaths,” said Dr. Rittman. “My hope is that offering very accessible knowledge during the space of a patient visit could really improve those outcomes and save a lot of lives.” 

Learn more about MedPearl.