Midwest health insurer Medica is launching its own research arm to formalize the company’s research into health services and comparative effectiveness and to eventually conduct clinical trials.
The new business, Medica Research Institute, officially launched earlier this year but is not yet conducting any studies.
“Right now, we’re just assessing opportunities as they come across,” said Medica Research Institute director Kristina Bloomquist. “We have many ideas in the pipeline and individuals, agencies and institutions that have reached out to us with proposal ideas. We’re looking at those. [Future research] will be activities that we know will fit with our mission, ones that we can support through the data that we have, and then making sure that the partner that we choose to partner with is one that we can A) learn from and then B) also someone who is well respected in the field.”
The company hopes to kick off three studies by the end of the year. These studies will likely be collaborations with other institutions, Bloomquist said.
“What we intend to do is establish our research agenda and build our research portfolio looking for partnerships that we can create with others in the research community and then grow as the opportunities present themselves,” she said.
Founded in 1975 as Physicians Health Plan, Medica provides healthcare coverage to employers and individuals in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Based in Minnetonka, Minn., the non-profit company is part of the family of health plan businesses that includes Medica Holding Company, Medica Health Plans, Medica Health Plans of Wisconsin, Medica Insurance Company, Medica Self-Insured, Medica Foundation and Medica Affiliated Services. Medica generated $3.2 billion in revenue in 2008 and has 1,320 employees, according to the company’s web site.
A research entity within a health plan is not unusual, Bloomquist said, because of the vast amounts of member data that HMOs collect as part of doing business. Medica was already doing some research before launching the institute and has several doctorate-level researchers on staff.
“What we wanted to do is really make sure that we had a dedicated effort,” Bloomquist said. “It’s something we’ve just kind of participated in in the past because we knew it was the right thing to do and we were skilled at doing so and we had the data resources to do that. We’ve come to the realization that it’s a significant effort, and it requires dedicated resources.”
Medica initially plans to focus its research energies on health services and comparative effectiveness—two areas in which the company has already conducted research. But, the insurer hopes to one day conduct studies that involve clinical trials.
“Probably because of the way we’re organized as a health plan, we’re most equipped to right now to do health services research and comparative effectiveness studies,” Bloomquist said. “Because we have unique relationships with many healthcare provider systems that we contract with on behalf of the health plan, we’ll be reaching out to those provider systems to look for research that we can collaborate on that would include the delivery side of healthcare. That would allow us to do clinical trials. We feel that’s important because we want to be able to apply our outcomes across the continuum of healthcare as well, not just the payer portion. Clinical trials will likely be a secondary phase of development for us.”