Optum Labs funds opening of digital health research center at Cornell

Photo: Al David Sacks/Getty Images

Optum Labs, the research and development arm of UnitedHealth Group, and Cornell Tech have created a collaborative research hub at Cornell University in New York that will focus on precision behavioral health and advancing equity in healthcare.

The move, said Optum, was spurred by recent innovations in artificial intelligence, machine learning, mobile sensing technology and virtual reality, which are creating opportunities for improving care.

Optum Labs is providing funding in 2022-’23, which will drive research in precision behavioral health, extended reality for aging in place, and equitable human and algorithmic decision-making.


The partnership will be led by Deborah Estrin, an associate dean and a Robert V. Tishman ’37 professor at Cornell, and Dr. Tanzeem Choudhury, senior vice president at Optum Labs and a Roger and Joelle Burnell professor in Integrated Health and Technology at Cornell.

They said the partnership was formed with the specific intent of transforming patient health outcomes and care by incorporating new types of health data from wearables and internet of things (IoT) devices and creating new types of remote intervention and care delivery using augmented reality and virtual reality actuation technologies with computational techniques.

Estrin said the research initiative will accelerate the translation of novel research into scalable tools for improving individual and community health.

Ranju Das, CEO of Optum Labs, said that by bringing academia and research institutions together, “we are creating a collaborative environment where research outcomes are achieved efficiently with an immediate opportunity for equitable impact.”


Despite efforts from the U.S. Department of Justice to stop the merger, Optum successfully merged with Change Healthcare in October. The estimated $13 billion merger combines UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest companies in the U.S. and the owner of the nation’s largest health insurer, and Change Healthcare, among the nation’s largest electronic data interchange clearinghouses.

The company has entered into a number of partnerships this year, notably teaming with Red Ventures on a new consumer health-focused joint venture, RVO Health, which among other things includes doctor ratings through Healthgrades.

Red Ventures is a portfolio of brands that includes Healthgrades, Healthline Media, Optum Perks and Optum Store, as well as virtual coaching programs. Those will all be folded into the RVO Health venture. According to a report from Moody’s Investors Service, RVO Health will combine 120 million UHG customers and 50 million-plus members with Red Ventures’ 95 million unique monthly visitors.

Also this year, Optum, parent company UnitedHealth Group and Walmart began a 10-year collaboration the companies describe as “wide-ranging,” with the intent to leverage their combined expertise to improve health outcomes and the patient experience.

The collaboration will start in 2023 with 15 Walmart Health locations in Florida and Georgia, and will expand into new geographies over time. Ultimately, the companies expect to serve hundreds of thousands of seniors and Medicare beneficiaries in value-based arrangements through multiple Medicare Advantage plans.


“The Digital Health Research Hub is creating closer collaborations between world-renowned health technology researchers from academia and Optum Labs scientists,” said Choudhury. “The new algorithms and computational systems resulting from this partnership have the potential to shape the future of digital healthcare solutions.”

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: [email protected]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *