Those of you who know me personally know that I really care about health and well being – both that of others, and my own.
I exercise daily, just enough to feel good, I try to eat well, and I do my best to avoid excessive caffeine. But I’m not perfect! Even on my best days, my efforts to trick my sweet tooth with Splenda are only sometimes successful, and frankly, I still need to watch my caffeine intake…
When I don’t feel well, have a medical concern, or need to make a health related decision, like most people, I turn first to the Internet. It’s always very interesting to tap into the wealth of health content on the Web, and it’s fascinating to read and watch the multiple perspectives, both professional and personal, about every conceivable health and wellness related issue. Nonetheless, almost always, what I find online is about a “Condition,” and not about “Me”…And that’s sub optimal.
I love Pandora.com for helping me find great music (that I like), and Netflix for suggesting quality movies (that I likely would enjoy — if I only had the time to watch them ) and Amazon for making insightful book recommendations. I often think to myself: “it’s about time that health information becomes more personalized, like some of these services are.”
I started my personal journey in wellness and health back in 1999. And what a start it was! I quit smoking cold turkey, started exercising daily and (tried) to eat healthier. These changes worked for me – and in the process transformed my life.
Empowered and impassioned, I embarked on a lifelong quest to help others. I started my collective health voyage at Stanford with a group of graduate students and faculty conducting research into personalized medicine and into how people communicate about their health and well being. We had a dream: to one day make health information truly individualized.
Through my own journey and my work with great people around me, I have learned how different people express themselves about health, how they think about their well-being, what exactly they’re looking for, and what they’re truly concerned about.
After more than a decade of personal experience, and after working with some brilliant people and with millions of online and mobile users of the services we’ve built, I’ve traveled full circle; I’ve returned to a fundamental realization that was intuitively evident from the very beginning of this exploration:
The largest common denominator of almost all health issues – whether healthy living challenges, or disease and conditions – is an underlying feeling of personal anxiety. Nothing creates angst and uncertainty like “the unknown.” I’ve also learned, by listening to people and by experiencing it myself, that the best way to alleviate this anxiety is by showing people reliable facts, numbers and other bits of knowledge most relevant to them as individuals. This tangible health data, turned to information, turned to knowledge, turned to wisdom can help people understand what’s going on, and can guide decisions on what to do when they’re worried most.
When I’m concerned, I’d really like to have these facts and numbers translated quickly to knowledge about me, rather than about a general condition or disease. As a researcher, I understand the value of “normal distribution curves” and “standard deviations” that help explain what works for “most people” in large populations. But I also understand (like we all do), that I (or those who I love) may not be close enough to the averages (or the “mean”) in this data. Like anyone else, I’d really like to know what works for people who are similar to me, and what might actually work well for me. I want to translate this data to wisdom, so I can act on it.
We live in exciting times. The Federal government is “liberating” a torrent of health data, ranging from public health to hospital quality ratings (join our developer challenge to build apps that help people improve their health and well being based on data), people are sharing more facts about their health and well being on sites like Wellsphere, HealthCentral, Cure Together, WebMD, Daily Strength and Patients Like Me. Very exciting sharing is also happening in the rapidly evolving, new field of Quantified Self – where like-minded people are developing creative ways to track and measure human behavior and health metrics to better understand and to improve their lives.
This rapid evolution reminds me of stories I’ve heard about the early days of personal computing, when people built individual software programs that ran on multiple platforms before the advent of the operating system. In short, it’s a new and super exciting day, where the promise and potential of personalization are very close on the horizon.
The time has arrived to bring together what we’ve learned about others’ health and our own, and our experience in building secure, scalable health information systems that have already served tens of millions around the world, and to work together with great people and companies in our field to build the foundation of true personalization in health. It’s time to transform health data, information, and knowledge into health wisdom useful to people in an individualized way and help you live a healthier happier life.
Photo Credit: Featured photo of Ron Gutman courtesy of Mona T. Brooks | http://www.monabrooks.com