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HHS and OptumLabs team up to mine big data

OptumLabs is teaming up with HHS to use big-data resources to provide insight into patient care and population health.

Cambridge, Mass.-based OptumLabs is a research and innovation center established by UnitedHealth Group's Optum unit and the Mayo Clinic. The partnership, among several OptumLabs has with other consumer groups, health systems, academics, and drug makers, will provide the technology and tools to cross reference de-identified medical claims with clinical data to improve healthcare research.

The first HHS project will be led by researchers at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which provides support on research regarding patient-centered outcomes. AHRQ scientists will analyze trends reported in the agency's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey as compared to OptumLabs' claims data, in an effort to find more valuable information for researchers.

The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey examines the health services Americans use, how frequently they're being used, the services' costs and how they are paid for. The survey also looks at the cost, scope and breadth of health insurance available in the U.S.

“As HHS and its affiliates seek opportunities to improve the health, safety and well-being of all Americans, we believe that partnering with private-sector organizations such as OptumLabs will help accelerate the discovery of new healthcare models and practices,” said Susannah Fox, chief technology officer at HHS.

Future HHS projects are expected to revolve around many topics, including population health and the economics of healthcare. Over 100 research projects are underway or in development at OptumLabs, and more than 20 articles have been published by collaborative members and partners since the center was established in 2013.

OptumLabs isn't alone in the competitive market of healthcare data mining. IBM Corp. in April launched its health analytics arm, Watson Health. Geisinger Health System's xG Health Solutions and Aetna also are in the big-data analytics game.

A House Appropriations subcommittee voted in June on a draft HHS budget for fiscal 2016 that would have eliminated AHRQ. The agency had an annual budget of $440 million for fiscal 2015. The agency would have been eliminated this past October.


Adam Rubenfire

Adam Rubenfire covers supply chain for Modern Healthcare. His beat responsibilities include pharmaceuticals, medical devices, capital equipment, group purchasing organizations and medical supplies. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Automotive News and Crain’s Detroit Business. He has a bachelor’s degree in organizational studies from the University of Michigan. He joined Modern Healthcare in 2014.

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