Example is a big data-based study involving Optum and Mayo Clinic that indicates diabetes management can be too aggressive for some patients

Mayo Clinic has tapped Optum Labs’ huge data set to fuel research suggesting diabetes management can be too aggressive among those diabetics who don’t have problems controlling their glucose level. Optum Labs’ data is also being mined to investigate dozens of research initiatives, including a major fight against Alzheimer’s disease. These projects provide a glimpse into the growing role of big data in healthcare.

Because more than 70% of a typical patient’s permanent medical record consists of clinical laboratory test data, pathologists and medical laboratory scientists have a stake in the growth of big-data analytics, which are a core component in healthcare’s journey toward personalized medicine.

Identifying Variations in Diabetes Management

Mayo researchers used Optum Labs’ data on more than a million patients with Type 2 diabetes to study diabetes management. According to Modern Healthcare, the American Medical Group Association (AMGA)—another Optum Labs’ member—will now put those results to use within the healthcare organization’s 40 medical groups. They will use the Mayo Clinic research “to identify variations in diabetes management across physicians,” potentially uncovering some patients who are being over treated.

Some of these findings will drive changes in how physicians are encouraged to improve their utilization of clinical laboratory tests for diagnosing and managing diabetes. “What we ought to be doing is testing people who haven’t been tested or testing those who are out of control,” John Cuddeback, MD, PhD, CMIO at Anceta, AMGA’s collaborative data warehouse, stated in a Modern Healthcare article.

Input of ‘Big Data’ Fuels Multiple Research Projects

Optum Labs was formed in 2013 by Optum (the health IT arm of UnitedHealth Group), and Mayo Clinic, as an open center for healthcare research and innovation. Located near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in Cambridge, UnitedHealth contributed decades of de-identified claims records on 150 million people to the project, while Mayo Clinic and other partners have added clinical and consumer behavior information to the growing real-world data set.

Mayo Clinic primary care physician and endocrinologist Rozalina McCoy, MD, is working on multiple big-data research projects thanks to the benefits of being able to tap Optum Labs’ massive database of clinical information and other data. (Photo copyright Mayo Clinic.)

Mayo Clinic primary care physician and endocrinologist Rozalina McCoy, MD, is working on multiple big-data research projects thanks to the benefits of being able to tap Optum Labs’ massive database of clinical information and other data. (Photo copyright Mayo Clinic.)

Mayo Clinic primary care physician, endocrinologist, and assistant professor Rozalina McCoy, MD is working on more than a dozen big-data research projects, seizing the opportunity to tap a comprehensive database of healthcare information.

Researchers See Great Value When They First Access Healthcare Big Data

When it comes to using healthcare big data, “It’s like you wanted to build a house, but never had bricks,” McCoy 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.”

Five new members of the consortium were added in January 2015:

Brown University School of Public Health;
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health;
MIT Sloan School of Management;
Novartis Pharmaceuticals; and,
ResMed.

“Our 20 diverse collaborators provide unique insights and perspectives to the growing number of research studies under way,” stated Paul Bleicher, MD, PhD, CEO of Optum Labs, in a news release. “These additional organizations bring a new level of depth and breadth to Optum Labs’ ability to make continued progress in collaborative research that enhances patient care.”

Mayo Clinic Expects Big Data to Transform Healthcare

Mayo Clinic, the world’s largest private medical practice with a system of regional hospitals and primary-care clinics, expects big data to change the practice of medicine by helping to better inform clinical decision-making.

“What we’re trying to find out, if we can, is what does healthcare cost, and what of that spend really adds value to a patient’s outcome over time, especially with these high-impact diseases,” Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy, MD, 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.”

Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy, MD, believes big data may be the key to transforming healthcare costs by informing clinical decision-making and altering patient outcomes. (Photo copyright Mayo Clinic.)

Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy, MD, believes big data may be the key to transforming healthcare costs by informing clinical decision-making and altering patient outcomes. (Photo copyright Mayo Clinic.)

Other Companies Involved in Big-Data Analytics

While the Optum Labs collaborative includes a diverse mix of healthcare, technology, and research organizations, as well as consumer advocate AARP, it is not the only healthcare data-mining project in the works:

• IBM Corp. has launched an analytics arm called Watson Health;
Geisinger Health System has xG Health Solutions; and,
Aetna Innovation Labs has collaborated with GNS Healthcare to begin using big data to give patients personalized care.

“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,” stated Philip Bourne, PhD, Associate Director for Data Science at the National Institutes of Health, in the Star Tribune report.

These developments are being followed closely by pathologist-informaticists in some of the nation’s top academic institutions. They have long advocated for combining medical laboratory test data with other clinical data. As some early healthcare big data projects publish their findings, they are validating the value of mining healthcare big data.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

Mayo Seeks to Dominate with Data

Optum Labs Research Collaborative Strengthens Collective Resource Base Through Addition of Five Leading Organizations

Healthcare Data Mining: Optum Labs Collaborative Begins to Offer Insights About What Works

New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center Using Big Data to Improve Clinical Care

ACOs Are Learning to Use Big Data

Pathologists May Be Healthcare’s Rock Stars of Big Data in Genomic Medicine’s ‘Third Wave’

Health Insurers Spending Big Dollars to Be Players in ‘Big Data’; Trend has Implications for Clinical Pathology Laboratories

To Find Patients at Highest Risk, Hospitals Combine Consumer Data with Clinical Information—Including Clinical Laboratory Results