The Mayo Clinic has been a venerated part of the U.S. health care landscape for a long time. But now, the health giant is entering a new venture: big data.
“What we’re trying to find out, if we can, is what does health care cost, and what of that spend really adds value to a patient’s outcome over time,” Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. John Noseworthy told Minnesota’s Star Tribune Dec. 9. “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.”
Pushes to deliver health care in new ways are partly in response to the Affordable Care Act, which has stirred significant political controversy over how services should be provided and paid for.
Noseworthy says that while doctors can’t control all the changes that are occurring, they can do their best to deliver more accurate and affordable health services. “We can’t affect what happens with the Affordable Care Act, but we can make our care safer and higher quality, more precise, at lower costs,” he told Modern Healthcare last year.
The Mayo Clinic works differently from many medical institutions in that it is primarily a referral center. That means that it has trouble tracking what happens to patients in the long run. “People come here and they leave. We don’t always know what happens to them,” according to Nilay Shah, a health data scientist.
But the growing use of electronic health records, as well as data collected over the past several decades by pharmacies and insurance companies, is making it possible to track long-term outcomes. The hope is that by compiling such data, doctors and health administrators can make better treatment decisions.
And now, data science has created tools to analyze amounts of information too vast for any human doctor or even a standard computer system to process.
“For the first time, it is possible to connect tens of millions of data sets from almost every facet of the health system — office visits, surgeries, lab tests, images, medical devices, prescriptions and more — and judge whether people got better or worse depending on what kind of care they got,” wrote Jackie Crosby for the Star Tribune.
In its mission to step up big data efforts, the Mayo Clinic has formed some unlikely partnerships, including one with insurance giant UnitedHealth Group.
The two entities are collaborating on a venture called Optum Labs, which claims to be the most comprehensive health database in the nation. It allows researchers to compare not only the effectiveness of various treatments, but also their costs.
Insurance claims contain valuable information for health practitioners because these records follow patients even when they move among various care providers. By looking at claims, researchers can discover, for example, whether a patient had a prescription filled or actually showed up for scheduled physical therapy appointments.