THE GE­OG­RA­PHY OF DIS­EASE

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There are plenty of doc­tors, but no white coats, in the Cam­bridge, Mass. of­fices of Op­tum Labs™.

With a fo­cus on sci­ence and dis­cov­ery, the re­search and in­no­va­tion col­lab­o­ra­tive ex­am­ines data, not pa­tients. Op­tum® part­ners across the en­tire health sys­tem in help­ing solve health care s big­gest chal­lenges. Its goal is to help em­ploy­ers, in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, providers, life sci­ence or­ga­ni­za­tions, gov­ern­ments and oth­ers un­der­stand health care in all its com­plex­ity, and find ways to im­prove care and re­duce the costs.

The Op­tum-Com­mu­nity Health dataset tracks close to 100 dif­fer­ent health met­rics in more than 300 com­mu­ni­ties na­tion­wide, en­abling re­searchers to quickly vi­su­al­ize and un­der­stand key dif­fer­ences and sim­i­lar­i­ties across mar­kets. The pro­pri­etary dataset pro­vides re­searchers with in­for­ma­tion from more than 100 mil­lion pa­tients—with all the data anonymized to en­sure pa­tient pri­vacy.

It of­fers com­par­isons of health, well-be­ing, so­cial fac­tors and health­care sys­tem qual­ity in com­mu­ni­ties across the U.S. Us­ing this data, em­ploy­ers can in­ves­ti­gate which in­ter­ven­tions can im­prove care for their em­ploy­ees, and where their im­ple­men­ta­tion will have the great­est im­pact.

Some of the re­gional vari­a­tions are easy to un­der­stand. The higher preva­lence d hy­per­ten­sion in the South co­in­cides with the higher in­ci­dence of a va­ri­ety of other se­ri­ous con­di­tions there, in­clud­ing di­a­betes and high choles­terol, ac­cord­ing to Op­tum Labs CEO, Dr. Paul Ble­icher, M.D., Ph.D. The high in­ci­dence of chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease (COPD) in the Ohio River Val­ley, par­tic­u­larly in West Vir­ginia and Ken­tucky, cor­re­lates with com­mu­ni­ties that re­port some of the high­est lev­els of smok­ing per capita.

An­other ex­am­ple: There are more re­ported cases of de­pres­sion per capita in the Rocky Moun­tain states than in other re­gions. That may be be­cause a higher per­cent­age of Rocky Moun­tain res­i­dents are de­pressed—but it may also be be­cause they are "more likely to go to the doc­tor, a more likely to tell the doc­tor about their symp­toms, or the doc­tor may be more likely to di­ag­nose de­pres­sion than do doc­tors in other re­gions," says Ble­icher.

Some­times even a dataset as so­phis­ti­cated as the one at Op­tum Labs is in­suf­fi­cient to pro­vide in­sights on some find­ings. For in­stance, none of the al­most 100 fac­tors tracked cor­re­lates closely with the high in­ci­dence of lower back pain in the Great Plains states.

In all the re­gions, by ap­pre­ci­at­ing the mea­sures of com­mu­nity be­hav­ior that are cor­re­lated with—and in some cases are known to be re­spon­si­ble for—these dis­eases and con­di­tions," em­ploy­ers can fund pre­ven­tive health care mea­sures and in­ter­ven­tions in a way that will de­liver max­i­mum value to them and their em­ploy­ees, Ble­icher says.

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