Big Data

The title of the article in the WSJ was Researchers Mine Data From Clinic, Big Insurer and when I saw it I was immediately suspicious.   It started out nice enough:

The new effort, dubbed Optum Labs, will be part of UnitedHealth’s Optum health-services arm. UnitedHealth Group Chief Executive Stephen J. Hemsley said the company viewed it as a “dedicated research unit…not a profit-driven undertaking,” and the goal was to create “a neutral place to conduct research” with partners from around the health industry, with the findings to be made public. He compared it to the historic Bell Labs, where a number of important technology discoveries were made over decades.

I am not buying it.  Who cares if the information is not for profit?  Who cares if the information is made public?  It is what they do with the information that counts.  Do they cut some services?   Do they stop covering some medications?  Do they make doctors treat patients with a herd mentality?  Heck, maybe they aren’t directly selling the date just show the insurance companies how to make more profit?

Here some more highlights:

  • The initiative will focus on research into “best outcomes for patients at lower costs”.
  • Optum and Mayo said their data, analytics tools and expertise will be available to other entities such as health systems and drug companies that will work with Optum Labs on specific projects, ideally bringing their own data pools to use.
  • As hospitals buy up doctor practices to become huge, integrated systems united by electronic medical records, they are increasingly trying to marry up their clinical data with insurers’ billing records to track and manage the health of patients.
  • “The big challenge is that when data are collected for health care, it doesn’t mean they are good for research,” said Kay Dickersin, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Trials.

In my opinion, this is just a scam under the guise of research.  It may helps a small amount patients (trust me, that will be publicized) but the insurers and Big Pharma will be helped even more.  This is just another path leading to Industrialized Medicine rather than Authentic Medicine.

Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected]

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4 Responses

  1. John Parkin says:

    Not for profit !! B.S. Everything United Health does is for profit. They recently lamented that their 4th quarter earnings had declined to a mere 1.24 BILLION $$$$.I’m embarassed thay they are based in my home state of Minnesota.

  2. Jeff McGraw says:

    I’ve never seen United Healthcare do anything that wasn’t profit-driven. They are the most unethical insurance company I’ve ever had to deal with (I work in the finance side of healthcare). Everything they do is directed toward denying payment for the care they supposedly provide coverage for, all to increase their profit.

    I’m all for profit, but when a company is dishonest about the services they provide, that’s over the line.

  3. Kathy Wire says:

    I need to play devil’s advocate here. Medical providers have to decide how to treat their patients, and each, in good faith, uses the limited information available to him/her. But where does that come from? They can’t do blinded studies on every aspect of care and each provider/practice lacks the volume of information to truly know what works and why.

    The ability to look at thousands or millions of patients who get the same medication/treatment with information (from the insurers) about their co-morbidities and outcomes offers huge opportunities. I am particularly hopeful that this research might help identify pockets of people who have a particular response or susceptibility, such as those genetically disinclined to respond to anticoagulants, so we can better understand those issues and treat them accordingly.

    From a patient safety perspective, relying on voluntary reporting of patient response, outcomes and complications, I believe, is terribly flawed.

    There will need to be wisdom in ferreting out true cause and effect, but that’s been a problem with more “classic” research as well. And if the research identifies a less expensive path to good outcomes, then maybe we can provide more care for people without bankrupting ourselves.

    I share your skepticism about the motives and ethics of the insurance companies and big Pharma. Unfortunately, they have the information. They will need watchdogs, and with luck the press and the bloggers will help to fill that role.

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