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Mayo President and CEO Dr. John Noseworthy

Mayo, Optum to share huge data sources for healthcare research

By Joseph Conn
Posted: January 15, 2013 - 3:15 pm ET

The Mayo Clinic announced it will collaborate with Optum, the data analytics arm of health insurance holding company UnitedHealth Group, in the launch of Optum Labs. The healthcare research center in Cambridge, Mass., will marry clinical information, provided by Mayo's electronic health-record system, with claims information from Optum.

Mayo President and CEO Dr. John Noseworthy called the collaboration the “largest effort of this type in the country,” adding that the combination of the two organization's data could help in determining what treatments yield the best value through analysis of both clinical outcomes and cost.

Dr. Veronique Roger, the director of Mayo's Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, said data analytics under the new consortium could, for example, focus on patients with a common disease such as heart failure, a costly ailment due to recurrent hospitalizations.

By having a data source that links clinical data to claims data, researchers will have a “complete panorama” of data they can piece together from inpatient to other care environments “where the only way you can get data is claims data,” Roger said.

Analysts can look for “triggers” for re-hospitalizations that can be acted upon, she said. Fruits of the collaboration could be shared with the community “through research publications and other means,” she said.

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Patient data contributed to the center will be “completely de-identified” before being sent to Optum Labs, she said. The research center doesn't plan to use genomic data initially, but it “can be a part of where we go with Optum Labs, but that's not where we started,” said Andy Slavitt, group executive vice president of Optum, who spoke at a news conference to announce the launch Tuesday.

Asked how it would be possible to de-identify genomic data and still have it useful for research, Roger said, “The clinical reality is going to be revolving around a specific genetic marker, not an entire genome. We're not at all talking about sending entire genomic sequencing in because whole genome sequencing is not used in clinical care today.”

The center will operate as a business unit of Optum with no ownership by the Mayo Clinic.

“There will be financial relationships, undoubtedly,” with other research partners, Slavitt said. . But “the intention is not to operate it for profit, but to really operate it for research,” he said.

“Research needs will be looked at on a project-by-project basis,” he said. “Some of them will require funding from some interested party, some of them will be funded by the researchers. Some of it will be funded by outside sources.”

The center, located adjacent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, has been open for several months, and Optum is “beginning to staff it with research scientists,” Slavitt said, with “as many of 60 employees” working there by year-end, including Mayo researchers.

Optum will contribute data from “100 million patient lives that span over 20 years” Slavitt said, while Mayo will add 15 million patient records. Combined, “We could do something bigger together than either organization can do on its own,” he said.

Optum and Mayo are looking for other contributors to the consortium.

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