Getting Personal with Your Health Data | Data & Me

Perhaps no one knows the healing power of data better than Garth Callaghan, a father, author and cancer survivor from Richmond, Virginia.

Garth has spent the last seven years looking at his own data and using it to stay healthy through four kidney cancer diagnoses, and the accompanying treatments. Staying healthy has ultimately kept him alive to see his daughter grow up. According to him, it’s all because of the way he monitors and measures how his body reacts to everything from sleep to food to medications.

For Garth, and many other patients coping with chronic or serious health conditions, the ability to collect and analyze their own personal data has transformed living in uncertainty and fear to empowerment and the ability to lead a normal life.

Missed the first Data & Me episode? Watch it here.

Data & Me Video Series - Getting Personal with Your Health Data

Where does the health data come from?  

The increase in Internet of Things (IoT) devices — fitness bands, smartphones, electronic medical devices — and app-powered connectivity hubs (smartphones and tablets) has made our own data much more accessible. We can now track steps, sleeping patterns, nutrition, weight and just about anything else, all in our pocket. Not only can we collect the information from all kinds of sources, but applications and dashboards are helping us make more sense of it all. Accessibility + insights = empowerment.

For someone with diabetes, having an insulin pump that monitors and feeds at regular intervals is painting a very clear picture of the causes and effects of rises and falls in insulin levels in their body. This data can be correlated to eating habits, stress levels and other medications a patient may be on. This not only improves the patient’s standard of living today but can increase life expectancy by reducing stress on the body and helping device manufacturer and pharmaceutical companies improve the drug and intake methods. More data means more intelligence, which leads to smarter advances.

Big health data could change the way we develop treatments.

In the case of healthcare innovators like PatientsLikeMe in Cambridge, Massachusetts, health data could even change the way treatments are developed. They see a future in which traditional research and development will be enhanced with virtual development and testing environments.

“My hope is that we can work with patients and new sources of information to speed up the development process,” Renee Deehan Kenney, Vice President of Computational Biology at PatientsLikeMe

The team at PatientsLikeMe are looking not only at patient-generated health data, but also at the impact of the patient being an active player in their own health — especially when undergoing treatments. As Renee explains, “We have been an extraordinarily patient-centric organization and believe that patients understand their own health really better than anybody else does.”

Getting personal with your health data.

You don’t need to have a chronic condition or be battling cancer to be empowered by your own data. Simply tracking sleep, exercise and food can go a long way to understanding what makes you feel better or worse on a given day, help you lose weight or feel more energetic, and live an overall healthier life.

Most smartphones track steps and you can download an app for just about anything nowadays. You’d be surprised the difference just paying attention could make if you’ve experienced bad mood days or other imbalances. As more and more doctors and health systems adopt new technologies, the data points we track every day will become correlative to health conditions we have to seek advice on, opening up opportunities for faster diagnosis and more targeted treatments. The more information you capture and keep, the more informed you and your doctor can be.

Data & Me Video Series - Getting Personal with Your Health Data

Garth, like so many patients today, is really starting to rely on their own data to help them maintain a standard of living. And the proliferation of data brings great hope for the future.

Garth shared, “My biggest hope is that we have more data than what we can even possibly imagine to do with, because eventually we’ll be able to take that data and either cure patients, or in a case like mine, maybe make treatment neutral so I could maybe lead a normal life again.”

Data & Me: Exploring data's impact on our everyday livesdata makes possible weekly highlights subscription