Health-care technology firm Optum and the Mayo Clinic are launching a new venture, Optum Labs, which will leverage massive clinical and claims datasets to improve patient care. At least in theory, the Labs will combine with Optum’s health-care claims information with the Mayo Clinic’s clinical data and scientific knowledge, with a target audience of academic institutions, life-sciences companies, and other researchers. "Our strategic research alliance with Optum Labs will leverage what we believe to be the largest combined source of clinical and claims information,” John Noseworthy, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Mayo Clinic, wrote in a Jan. 15 statement, “providing a more comprehensive picture of patients' diagnoses, progression of diseases, comparative treatments and outcomes." The insights from that data could improve the effectiveness of patient programs and discover optimal treatments for particular conditions; for example, a life-sciences firm could use the combined data from leukemia patients to determine the best treatments at cost. “We will be able to better understand health care delivery over time, compare the effectiveness of care we provide today, and analyze the total cost of care for specific procedures or diseases,” Veronique Roger, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, wrote in a statement. "This will help provide better care to patients, and help the health care industry better define value through outcomes instead of volumes." While Optum Labs might successfully transform massive datasets into effective medical insight, the health-care industry as a whole is struggling to embrace electronic records: a new study from RAND Corporation suggests that health care providers have largely failed to upgrade their respective IT systems in a way that allows them to take full advantage of e-records, even as the health care system in the United States (by some estimates) continues to waste hundreds of billions of dollars a year. “The failure of health information technology to quickly deliver on its promise is not caused by its lack of potential, but rather because of the shortcomings in the design of the IT systems that are currently in place,” Dr. Art Kellerman, senior author of the RAND study, wrote in a Jan. 7 statement. While some IT vendors have issued massive e-records systems—including Microsoft’s HealthVault—some other high-profile attempts have crashed and burned: take the case of Google Health, which launched with the expectation that patients and providers would jump at the chance to place their health and wellness records in the cloud; but people failed to flock to the service, and it shut down. Nonetheless, the health-care industry is clearly interested in using Big Data to boost patient care. Frost & Sullivan recently predicted that hospitals and other healthcare centers in the United States would adopt advanced data analytics in significant numbers over the next five years, despite only 10 percent of hospitals using such platforms in 2011. IBM, Oracle, and other IT vendors have partnered with health-care providers on analytics efforts.   Image: 18percentgrey/