Health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group (UHG) and Mayo Clinic on Tuesday announced that they have launched a new research initiative that will mine health data in order to compare, evaluate, and find ways to improve disease treatments and other health procedures.
 
The initiative, called Optum Labs, was launched through UHG’s health services arm, Optum. As part of the effort, researchers will mine UHG’s database of heath insurance claims and Mayo’s clinical patient records at a research facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Digging into these records will help researchers learn about the challenges and issues that doctors face and compare different treatments and approaches, which is hoped to help them find optimal treatments for various health conditions, according to UnitedHealth and Mayo.
 
Projects for Optum Labs scientists will include determining the best treatments for leukemia, analyzing how to improve the process of diagnosing Hepatitis C, and understanding health disparities among the elderly, UnitedHealth and Mayo said.
 
UHG’s stockpile of data includes claims records for more than 109 million people over 19 years, while Mayo has 5 million clinical records, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. The data will reportedly be stripped of information that would identify patients.
 
UnitedHealth and Mayo said that they expect to collaborate with other entities, including life sciences companies, academic institutions, and other health care providers on specific Optum Labs projects.
 
“Our strategic research alliance with Optum Labs will leverage what we believe to be the largest combined source of clinical and claims information, providing a more comprehensive picture of patients’ diagnoses, progression of diseases, comparative treatments, and outcomes,” Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy said in a statement.
 
UHG CEO Stephen Hemsley told The Wall Street Journal that the company viewed the new effort as a “dedicated research unit . . . not a profit-driven undertaking.” He described Optum Labs as “a neutral place to conduct research” with partners from across the health industry and said the findings will be made public.
 
Electronic medical records, like those held by Mayo Clinic, can offer an in-depth picture of a patient, with details such as test results and family history, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, they reportedly often have gaps as they do not include care a patient recieves from another health system. Meanwhile, insurance claims like those held by UHG, reportedly provide a broader picture because they include any diagnosis and service for which the insurer is billed.
 
Minnetonka-based UHG is Minnesota’s largest public company based on revenue, which totaled $101.9 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, several of the Rochester-based Mayo Clinic’s hospitals are among the largest in the state based on operating revenue, including Saint Marys Hospital, Rochester Methodist Hospital, and Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. Mayo is also among the five-largest employers in the state.
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