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BU School of Public Health to collaborate with Optum Labs

Optum Labs, the collaborative research center founded by Optum and Mayo Clinic, announced Thursday the addition of Boston University School of Public Health as one of seven new partners committed to improving the quality of patient care. PHOTO BY FALON MORAN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Optum Labs, the collaborative research center founded by Optum and Mayo Clinic, announced Thursday the addition of Boston University School of Public Health as one of seven new partners committed to improving the quality of patient care. PHOTO BY FALON MORAN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston University’s School of Public Health will partner with Optum Labs to develop new innovations and insight on patient care through data sharing and research.

As a healthcare research and innovation center, Optum Labs will provide SPH with unprecedented access to Optum Lab’s warehouse of data in exchange for extending the research results to Optum Labs, said Dan Berlowitz, a professor of health policy and management at SPH who spearheaded the partnership.

“Optum Labs is a large warehouse of data related to healthcare,” Berlowitz said. “The partnership allows people at SPH and perhaps in the greater BU community to use this data for research for other healthy policy questions.”

The partnership is tied to the idea that each institution, including SPH, will conduct individual research from Optum Labs’ wealth of data in order to improve the healthcare policies of the lab, said Jeffrey Smith, a spokesman for Optum Labs.

“The purpose was for each partner to bring fresh insight and perspective that could be turned into new research projects that … would create new sources of data that could expand the research database at Optum Labs,” Smith said. “… The growth through partnership has been an essential part of our strategy from day one.”

With over 80 institutions vying to collaborate with Optum Labs, SPH was selected because of its compatibility with the philosophies and ethics of Optum Labs, Smith said.

“It’s definitely a mutual process,” he said. “It’s not so much that we selected BU, its that BU and Optum Labs agreed that we were mutually compatible … The School of Public Health was among those meeting organizations that was the most eager to participate.”

Of the institutions considered, Optum Labs is currently collaborating with seven leading health organizations that together offer a large variety of innovation through the partnerships.

“We’ve assembled quite a variety of perspectives,” he said. “… The perspective that SPH is going to bring to the table is going to be extremely valuable.”

The partnership will involve SPH students actively researching data from Optum Labs’ warehouse, which will then be forwarded to Optum Labs, who will use the findings to improve the ways that patients are cared for, Berlowitz said.

“BU students have to come up with the ideas to use the data for,” he said. “We’ll come up with ideas, people will propose ideas and use the Optum Labs data to answer those questions. It’s a good opportunity.”

The unique access to Optum Labs’ expansive data warehouse will allow students at SPH to tap into research that would otherwise of have been impossible to access, Berlowitz said.

“It [the partnership] supplies data that they otherwise would not have,” he said. “In research, having the data is power … Having access to this data will allow people in SPH to do a lot of interesting projects and answer interesting questions.”

Berlowitz said he also expects that students, specifically doctorate students and those looking to write their senior thesis, will benefit from the access to Optum Labs data.

“The idea is that students, particularly doctoral students … would use the data on projects, senior thesis and things like that,” he said. “It would all be very valuable.”

The work SPH students contribute to Optum Labs will ultimately support their overarching purpose of putting the results of extensive research into action that will benefit their patients, Smith said.

“The mission of Optum Labs is to accelerate the pace of innovation and translation of research from the laboratory setting to the patient intensive care,” he said. “And by translation I mean taking large amounts of data lots of scientists, advanced and local tools and turning that into actionable information that commissioned doctors nurses could put into use.”

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