The Optum Labs database was significantly bolstered by Optum's 2013 acquisition of electronic medical record analytics firm Humedica, which included records for 30 million individuals. Combined with claims data from private health insurers, the database includes information for 150 million patients.
The new entrants to the laboratory's research community said Optum Labs' uniquely expansive data was the primary draw.
The Medica Research Institute, the research arm of Minnesota health plan Medica, will focus its research on how consumers make choices about health plans and the degree to which they understand and use health benefits, said Kristina Bloomquist, the institute's executive director.
Other research may inform the company's accountable-care efforts, she said, by helping it understand the choices patients make about where to seek medical care. Accountable-care contracts are built on financial incentives that encourage providers to meet cost and quality targets for a group of patients.
Optum Labs data may also help researchers learn more about the newly insured Americans who bought health plans this year in the commercial exchanges created under the health reform law, he said.
“We're very concerned with the healthcare market and healthcare spending, and the system is in the middle of a transformation,” said Michael Chernew, an economist with Harvard Medical School. Harvard researchers see the potential to broadly study how physicians practice medicine, which may help identify ways to improve the quality and cost of medical care. “It's going to be very important to track what's going on in different systems and in the system overall,” he said.
Eleanor Perfetto, who left Pfizer last year to become a professor of pharmaceutical health services research at the University of Maryland Baltimore, said the commercial population included in Optum Labs' data will complement data already available for some Medicare enrollees. Researchers armed with Optum Labs' data may study older adults on the cusp of Medicare, she said. Results could help project Medicare spending based on the needs of incoming seniors. It may also help identify targets for prevention among aging adults.
Dr. Nilay Shah, scientific director for the Mayo Clinic's work with Optum Labs, said the laboratory has sought to attract researchers with diverse expertise from across healthcare's sectors to cultivate an incubator for health policy and products, such as mobile applications or new AARP consumer education.
Many researchers are asking similar questions but tackle those questions with varied approaches, Shah said. Bringing them together could yield new insights with new data, which is the laboratory's goal, he said. “Can we leverage data to understand what works, what doesn't, for whom and in what context?”