Why UnitedHealth and the Mayo Clinic created Optum Labs

bleicherIn early 2013, health insurer UnitedHealth Group and the vaunted Mayo Clinic in Minnesota had a big idea — to create a kind of Bell Labs for the healthcare industry. The initiative, called Optum Labs, and overseen by UnitedHealth’s IT division, Optum, would seek to leverage “big data” to improve patient care and lower costs by convening a new alliance of companies and universities that would share information, technology, and scientific expertise.

The new venture, flush with cash and a swanky Cambridge, MA office, first had to convince top healthcare players, including universities and life sciences companies, to play together in the same sandbox for the greater good. Optum Labs, led by Dr. Paul Bleicher, left, now boasts 15 partners, including medical device giant Boston Scientific and drug-maker Pfizer. (Four new ones were announced this week, including Merck.) There are currently more than 40 projects underway, including 21 launched by the Mayo Clinic. Bleicher talked to us about moving from building mode to operations mode, and attaining long-term sustainability. He also shared a few slides.

Defining the value proposition

Optum Labs, when it was launched, represented a big investment from UnitedHealth Group and Optum. What was the value proposition for the partners?

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