By Christine Kern, contributing writer
Optum Labs provides the opportunity for Mayo researchers to access data to treat the sick.
The Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealth Group are moving forward with a new partnership to harness big data to find new ways to treat the sick, according to The Minneapolis Star Tribune. Although healthcare providers have been collecting data routinely for decades regarding the care and well-being of Americans to help further the treatment of the sick, new technology is making that analysis a little bit easier.
“It’s like you wanted to build a house, but never had bricks,” Dr. Rozalina McCoy, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist told the Star Tribune. “I’m able to ask all of these questions that haven’t been answered before – because they couldn’t be answered before.” McCoy is currently working on more than a dozen research projects involving “big data.”
The final member of the partnership is Optum Labs, a company that aims to unite a community of partners dedicated to improving patient care by sharing information assets, technologies, knowledge tools, and scientific expertise – the so-called “big data.”
Optum Labs offers access to a pool of integrated healthcare data, including millions of individuals with de-identified claims and clinical data that is continuously refreshed. Using advanced analytics and data visualization tools, the data can provide rapid and reliable insights to research questions, and is available to all partners in the Optum community.
Mayo Clinic contributes several key attributes to the success of Optum Labs, including clinical and research expertise to guide research agendas and interpret comparative effectiveness results; de-identified clinical data across a broad array of disease sets; and pathways and protocols that represent best clinical practices tested and standardized at Mayo.
“What we’re trying to find out, if we can, is what does health care cost, and what of that spend really adds value to a patient’s outcome over time, especially with these high-impact diseases,” Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. John Noseworthy told the Star Tribune. “Ultimately, we as a country have to figure this out, so people can have access to high-quality care and it doesn’t bankrupt them or the country.”
And as the world’s largest medical practice, Mayo Clinic is hoping to use the data to make breakthroughs in treatments that will influence the greater practice of medicine across the country. With the increasingly widespread adoption of EHRs and collection of other electronic health data, there is a new opportunity to use this information to predict outcomes and adjust treatment protocols.
“This is a key point in history, where data that’s already being collected is really going to become the dominant driver in what happens in healthcare,” Philip Bourne, who is leading the federal government’s push into big data for the National Institutes of Health, told the Star Tribune.
The venture is unique because of its size, scope, and purpose, bringing together some unlikely partners. “Ours is unique, because each group is learning from the other,” said Optum Labs CEO Dr. Paul Bleicher. “There’s a tendency to create automated approaches that spit out solutions. We have a charge to make this practical – and actually innovate and invent and prototype and develop.”
“Clinical trials are important,” McCoy said. “But ultimately with scarce resources, what if we can answer the question in a year by running models? It’s not a replacement for clinical trials, but it’s food for thought about research funding.”