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The bedside research revolution

C. Todd Staub, MD, FACP, SVP Physician Relations, Optum Care

It’s been a stated goal for years, but now it’s our mandate: Optum Care must be a learning health care system. What does that mean? We must cultivate an internal mechanism within our system designed to help us improve over time.

Optum Care Research and Innovation (OCRI) began as a passion project done off the sides of our desks. It has grown into a fully-fledged internal research support system, and points Optum Care towards undertaking research as an integral part of care delivery. We have so much to learn from the experience of our many talented clinicians.

Three types of research

1. Clinician trials

Clinical trials are easily recognized as the research process by which pharmaceuticals, procedural techniques and medical devices come to be approved by government agencies and brought to market. 

The process is years to decades long. Beginning in a lab, investigating treatments to provide therapeutics, preventatives and curative medicines, this research is long in its conception and has potential for life-changing, and life-saving outcomes.

2. Health services research

This type of research aims at addressing design of care delivery. This work is often conducted in academia and funded by the National Institutes of Health. 

Researchers work in real time developing better methods of delivering health care, noting the influence of population health and social determinants of health and testing how better service can be achieved.

The establishment of the quadruple aim and our work to address it is carried out in this form of research.

3. Enterprise research

Enterprise research, the category where OCRI belongs, has emerged as having the potential to harness the power of care delivery organizations. It may encompass parts of both of the other two types of research. 

We are a willing partner for other research units such as OptumLabs. We look for opportunities across business units to support the mission of Optum and UnitedHealth Group. 

By housing a supportive unit of science, technology and data professionals, clinicians have what they need to carry out the search for answers. Our aim is to solve problems in health and care delivery that affect us not only today, but those that we face down the road.

Making research possible for all clinicians

As we continue to build out our program, we have one specific resource we hope to tap. Clinicians who spend their time in patient care know a great deal about successes and challenges in health care systems.

They know what roadblocks their patients face in staying healthy. These are the people who can help us make improvements at the enterprise level.

Our goal is to connect a class of interested clinicians with the development and support that allows them to turn their knowledge and experience into actionable research.

Programming that includes the right scientists and grant developers on hand, as well as and an education in design thinking will foster great leaps forward.


Distribution of findings

The dissemination of results, a scientific way of improving our work, is an entire field of research to itself. The methods behind uptake of new findings is something we are engaged in discovering.

That said, pilot programs are important in spreading the word, as are traditional publishing opportunities.

As our findings are shared through publication and their use in our own care distribution organizations, the enterprise reputation as a hub for research will grow.

With this growth, we hope to attract clinicians interested in contributing to medical and business intelligence, furthering that first goal of becoming a learning health care system.

Rising to the occasion

We are just beginning to grow, but over the last year our determination to participate in protecting staff and patients from COVID-19 pushed us to develop several studies that improved health and safety.

Our new executive director Alexa Richie and program manager Shanieek Lawrence bring experience, organization and visionary leadership to OCRI.

With 20 million patients and growing under our care, we have a great obligation to fulfill. Our need to serve people healthier, more accessibly and lengthen quality and years of lives will lead us.

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This publication is informational and for educational purposes for practitioners only. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Optum Care. The views and opinions expressed may change without notice.