Healthcare is increasingly trending towards a more personalized approach to care. Value-based care is designed around the concept of putting patients first by delivering care that meets individual needs and really improves health outcomes. The steady rise of connected medical devices and hardware has also led to a growing understanding that the significant amount of useful data from these tools will allow for a more personalized approach to care and ultimately, healthier populations.

“We already rely on data to personalize consumer experiences throughout our lives, rarely making a purchase without comparative shopping or reviewing suggestions sent to us by retailers based on big data. Health care can follow suit,” says Amy Compton-Phillips, chief clinical officer for Providence St. Joseph Health, and author of a recent NEJM Catalyst survey that took a deeper look at data’s role in healthcare.

Data has long played a big role in healthcare. However, perhaps its greatest implication—how it can be used to transform healthcare delivery and impact patient care—is still to come.

Personalization powered by data

According to the NEJM Catalyst survey, 40 percent of respondents, which included healthcare executives, clinical leaders and clinicians, said that patient-generated data will be a top source of data in five years, joining clinical and cost data as well. These findings indicate that the cost of healthcare is important to people and there is a belief that data will be a vehicle for more personalized medicine that will reduce care costs and improve patient outcomes.

“Combining information from devices, patient feedback, and patient biomarkers will be powerful and will catapult care forward in a way we can’t attain today,” says Compton-Phillips.

The investment in and the rate at which medical devices and hardware are being developed and hitting the market confirm this notion that a more connected ecosystem of care—one in which patients and providers work together to develop tailored care plans for patients based on shared information—is the future of healthcare.

Weight scales, watches, blood pressure monitors, and blood glucose meters are examples of devices and hardware designed to not only give patients more control over managing their own health but also capture personal data to better meet individual patient needs and lifestyles. Whether that’s a smart scale tracking weight loss over time or insulin doses from a patient with diabetes, this data is offering a clearer and more realistic portrait of the user, giving care providers more information to offer treatment options that will give patients better outcomes.

Crowdsourced data can also elevate health and fitness apps by enriching the user experience through personalizing and refining experiences that matter to them, according to an Engadget article. Mary Liz McCurdy, Head of health and fitness apps for Google Play, said turning user data into deeper experiences can translate to things like personalized recommendations on how to eat healthier, sleep better and enjoy more effective workouts. “The apps give you the knowledge that you need to make informed decisions,” she says, “and live your best, healthy life.”

Expanding on data’s capabilities

The potential of data to impact healthcare in a very big way has long been foreseen. However it’s not a silver bullet to fix all of healthcare’s problems. The kinks are still being worked out as to how best to use and leverage data to its full potential—and some say, as the survey results imply, the best may be yet to come.

MobiHealthNews reported that the NEJM Catalyst survey found “fewer than 20 percent of respondents believe their organization’s use of data for direct patient care is “extremely effective” or “very effective.” Furthermore, 72 percent of respondents feel lack of interoperability undermines better use of patient data.

According to Compton-Phillips, “For patient data to become more impactful in health care, provider organizations will have to figure out how to efficiently obtain, integrate, and share information across disparate systems.”

All of the data in the world isn’t of much use if it’s not being utilized in a capacity that, in this case, changes patient outcomes and allows for a more streamlined, personalized delivery of care. It’s also critical that innovators incorporate patients into the design of these digital tools to ensure patients are being engaged and given a tool that they can realistically use.

As the “quantified self” movement continues to gain momentum, and technology affords more people the ability to play an active role in their health, it will be important to find a way to integrate the many different levels of care into a healthcare system that operates cohesively and effectively, allowing patients and providers to reap the full benefits that patient-generated data can truly offer.