SAS has hired GE Healthcare executive Dr. Graham Hughes to become the new chief medical officer for its health data analytics initiative.

Hughes, who had been chief medical informatics officer for GE Healthcare, is now charged with helping SAS further develop its health informatics strategy. The business intelligence software firm in May launched its Center for Health Analytics and Insights, or CHAI.

SAS is the software industry’s largest privately-held company with more than $2.4 billion in 2010 revenue. Health care is SAS’ second largest business segment in the United States trailing only financial services. SAS software is used by health insurance firms and large pharmaceutical companies. SAS software has been used in data analysis for clinical trials. The company sees electronic health records as a new business opportunity

CHAI operates within SAS’ health and life sciences division. While the initiative will have a business development role for the company, it is also a think tank that will conduct industry research and share best practices regarding health analytics. SAS has turned to the health industry to staff much of the CHAI team with other hires coming from companies such as GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH).

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