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December 10, 2014

Mayo Clinic Eyes Data to Improve Health Care

Optum Labs, a health services and technology venture formed by the Mayo Clinic along with one of the nation’s largest health care insurers, is analyzing patient data to identify the best treatments, understand variations in health care and determine the effectiveness of patient care.

The collaboration with the Mayo Clinic’s Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery will scour the records of about 149 million patients covered by insurance giant UnitedHealth Group in an attempt improve patient care while cutting costs. Mayo Clinic will supply the joint venture with data about 5 million patients as well as its medical data research expertise.

Mayo Clinic is also supplying Optum Labs with clinical and research support along with “de-indentified clinical data across a broad array of disease sets.” The partners also claim theirs is the nation’s most comprehensive health care database.

The Optum Lab venture is one of several big data efforts at the world-renowned medical clinic based in Rochester, Minn., as it seeks to retain its status as an elite medical institution. But like all hospitals, it is undergoing a transition as a new U.S. health care law changes the way doctors are paid and institutions are reimbursed for providing care.

Hospitals and health maintenance organizations alike are coming to the realization that they must leverage years worth of data they have until know been sitting on. Hence, the Optum Lab collaboration will sift through UnitedHealth Group’s patient data that includes medical claims, laboratory results and demographic data.

The partners are quick to add that all this data is secured in accordance with guidelines set out in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, otherwise known as HIPPA regulations.

“Optum Labs is a research and development center with a focus on collaboration and innovation with the ultimate goal of improving patient care,” explained Nilay Shah, scientific director of Optum Labs.

“Over the last decade there has been this interest in big data, which has really peaked in the last two to three years,” Shah added. “The big data discussion started primarily with genomic data. But from the [health care] delivery side there’s a ton of big data examples that exist.”

Optum Lab’s goal is “bringing a lot of different data together,” he noted. “Historically, the [insurance] payer data, the claims data, what the payer sees is in one space; what the provider sees resides in electronic medical records.

“The goal here is to bring it together to provide greater insight,” Shah stressed.

While there is plenty of federal support for medical research, there is relatively little funding supporting research on how medical care is delivered. That’s the primary focus of the Optum Labs venture between the Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealth Group.

Optum Lab’s data-driven research aims to help improve how health care is delivered. “It helps us understand what works, what doesn’t, so it improves the efficiency of health care, improves the outcomes for patients,” Shah added. The “benefactor funding” from Mayo Clinic and UnitedHeath Group also will help Optum Labs disseminate the findings of its data analysis and speed implementation at Mayo Clinic and elsewhere.

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