All of us are, or will be, patients. That is the cornerstone of Joseph Kanter’s vision for a patient-driven health-care data network. In the face of unexpected diagnoses we rely upon the expertise and guidance of medical professionals. However, variation in advised treatment can make decisions difficult: By reviewing numerous cases similar to their own, patients may feel more secure in identifying the best course of action.

Big data and analytics have improved best practices across industries: by embracing digital connectivity, public and private constituents hone their own processes and adopt optimal solutions shared by others. No field has the potential to improve efficiency and accuracy from this reciprocal exchange more than health care. Yet historically the health-care industry has lagged behind others in its adoption of digital information sharing, limiting the agency of patients moving through the system.

A health-care visionary

Joseph Kanter came face to face with these limitations through a diagnosis that would change his life. As a child raised in depression-era Alabama and later as a soldier in WWII, Joe was no stranger to challenges. But following a prostate cancer diagnosis over twenty years ago, he discovered the unique sense of powerlessness that many patients experience when confronted with serious illness.

Consulting with numerous doctors, Joe was alarmed to realize how widely treatment suggestions varied by medical professional. “At the end of the day, you may have to make one of the most important life-or-death decisions of your life relying on less applicable real-world data than you would have in deciding which brand of television to purchase for your living room,” Joe noted. In fact, there has long been a disconnect between large scale medical research and the treatment options prioritized by medical practitioners based on personal experience.

Frustrated with this inconsistency and fragmentation, Joe began to wonder: For people with similar health status to me, which treatments were chosen, and what were the outcomes? This question would serve as the catalyst for Joe’s commitment to developing a patient-driven database for electronic health records, also known as the Learning Health System (LHS), shaped by his own experience.

The power of patients

Kanter Health, with Joe as the driving force, is joining a grassroots movement started by the Learning Health Community (LHC) toward implementing a comprehensive Learning Health System (LHS). Kanter Health’s unique focus on patient empowerment encompasses the efforts of many individuals and organizations that came together at a 2012 Summit sponsored by the Joseph H. Kanter Family Trust. According to their vision, a searchable LHS database would consist of standardized, anonymous electronic medical records that detail health characteristics and treatment outcomes. Patients and health-care professionals alike could use the database to identify the best course of action given the unique circumstances surrounding each case.

The brilliance of a Learning Health System is its potential for growth. Combining information from multiple sources to represent a large fraction of the U.S. population, the system may provide unbiased solutions based on the collective experiences of millions of patients.

As more and more cases are included, the Learning Health System becomes smarter, providing more exhaustive, up-to-date data on each condition and adding more consolidated visibility into treatment options and outcomes. According to a 2012 report from the Institute of Medicine, “the adoption of a learning health-care system will require broad participation by patients, families, clinicians, care leaders, and those who support their work.”

Kanter Health has been leading the charge toward a learning health system since its founding with the stated mission “to mobilize diverse organizations and people to collaboratively advance human health.” They have since been joined by many within the health-care industry and the public health landscape more broadly. Rapidly improving data collection and storage technology paired with the recent federal mandate for electronic medical record-keeping has set the stage for a connected health-care future.

With cooperation from private and public constituents, the learning health system has the opportunity to solve health-care problems and empower patients by marrying empathy and cutting edge technology. Learn more about how Kanter Health is paving the way to the LHS.

This article was produced on behalf of Kanter Health by Quartz creative services and not by the Quartz editorial staff.