Tis the Season: Discover Alikes, Overcome Loneliness
Recent global events have made all of us more aware of our healthcare options and needs than ever before. We’ve been researching symptoms, discussing vaccines, embracing wellness apps and virtual visits, and developing a strong desire to understand our own treatment options, especially those of us battling mental health conditions.
The holiday season can be a particularly stressful and isolating time when we struggle with mental health issues, and even more so for those of us with comorbid (two or more) conditions. That’s why connecting with other people who experience highly similar problems is essential for alleviating our stress and dispelling our loneliness.
Patients everywhere are searching for accessible healthcare solutions that are truly personalized – after all, each and every one of us wants to be treated as more than just some test results or a medical chart. But is personalized healthcare actually achievable, or is it merely a pipe dream?
Thanks to patient similarity networks, personalized healthcare is more accessible than ever for the average patient. These powerful networks give us the ability to safely connect with others on a similar journey, share experiences, provide emotional and social support, and learn from each other along the way. Alike uses patient similarity networks to make such meaningful connections a reality – something that’s even more important during the holidays when we may feel more alone than usual.
So how do they work, and how can they help you?
Introducing the healthcare revolution that sees YOU
Simply put, patient similarity networks are clusters of patients, carefully grouped together based on similarities they share. In a patient similarity network, you may be grouped with patients that share not only what you’re going through, but also reflect your age group, gender, other health conditions you may have or medications you are taking, and more.
Consider a mom in her mid-40s who gets plenty of exercise chasing her kids around and does her all-around best to be there for them when they get home from school, drive them to football practice, sleepovers with friends, and more. Although she may share a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with her neighbor, that neighbor is in their 70s, overweight, and suffering from heart disease. Patient similarity networks take all these factors into account to ensure that both individuals receive medical care that’s tailored to their specific (and very different) needs.
Alike understands that finding others who have very similar struggles is vital during the holiday season as many people’s emotional discomfort may be heightened. The holidays bring additional challenges like increased financial pressure, pressure from family and friends to socialize, or distress at finding yourself alone during an intensely social time of year.
Let the data do the talking
Let’s take a closer look at some recent clinical studies into patient similarity networks. For example, in 2018, Stefanik et al. used a similarity network fusion (SNF) approach to identify patient similarity networks among individuals with various mental health diagnoses. They identified relationships within these groups based on participants’ demographics, brain imaging, and behavioral data. This data revealed high levels of similarity between participants and helped the researchers identify four new disease subtypes – a finding that enables people to find the most effective, personalized treatment for their mental health problems.
In 2020, Sánchez-Valle et al. investigated the molecular factors that lead to the development of comorbidity: for example, the factors leading someone with schizophrenia (and no family history of lung cancer) to develop lung cancer. Sánchez et al. identified disease patient subgroups with molecular similarities to other diseases, paving the way for treatment that reduces people’s risk of developing comorbid diseases.
Both studies (and others like them) stress the importance of doing away with the generalized approach and instead, developing personalized treatment plans for individuals.
A truly personalized support group
The concept of personalized medicine has been around for a while. Doctors have long known the importance of matching donors for blood transfusions or organ transplants, but large-scale patient similarity networks have only recently entered the frame, for several reasons.
Patient similarity networks require complex computational tools with advanced analytical capabilities. Many patient similarity networks are constructed using patient medical files and EMRs, which contain a vast amount of data. The complexity of the algorithms and machine learning tools used to create patient clusters have only been made available in recent years, facilitating an exciting new shift towards personalized healthcare.
The holiday season is the perfect time to embrace the kind of personalization that patient similarity networks can provide. Such networks offer uniquely valuable support from others who can really relate to what you’re going through during what may otherwise be a very difficult time.
Legislative changes are allowing patients to take control of their own healthcare data
As well as advancements in medical research technologies and data analytical capabilities, legislation around EMRs is also facilitating the advancement of patient similarity networks. Just this past April, new measures were introduced under the 21st Century Cures Act to empower patients with greater access to their health records. This new legislation aims to provide us with more control and transparency over our medical records, allowing us to make more informed medical decisions.
Alike’s patient similarity networks: A tool for the future, and your future
With de-identified data from EMRs, Alike uses a proprietary algorithm to create an AlikenessScore™, which computes the similarity between every two individuals in our system. You can explore your medical records to gain a better understanding of your own health and connect with others.
Your Alikes may be in the same age group, the same gender, take the same medications, or undergo the same treatments that you yourself are familiar with. While connecting with Alikes who share your mental health struggles can feel like a lifeline at any time of year, it can be particularly helpful during the festive period as it can make you realize you’re not alone in facing its challenges.
The immediate benefits of Alike’s patient similarity networks are easy to identify. Connecting with real people sharing your healthcare journey helps you become more informed of your treatment options. This approach can help you achieve better health outcomes by avoiding a treatment plan solely designed to treat one condition, without accounting for your overall health picture.
By embracing these exciting new technologies, we hold our healthcare destiny in our own hands in a way that hasn’t been possible until now. Patient similarity networks give us a real chance to change our lives by providing an accurate glimpse into our own futures.