Efficient, meaningful data analysis is at the core of some of today’s most important medical studies. It’s also essential for physicians, nurses, and other health professionals during their day-to-day practice as they interact with health interfaces and databases, generate reports, and review patient information and trends. But a mountain of data is of little use without data visualization. Data visualization brings the most important takeaways in the health industry into focus, helps us identify patterns and correlations, and makes data analysis more efficient.
For all of these reasons, it’s safe to say that the health industry today could hardly survive without data visualization. In this post, we’ll dive into all the ways health-care institutions are harnessing this essential medium — and offer up some ideas on how you can, too.
This is the first post in a series of articles on Data Visualization in Industry. In the coming weeks and months, you’ll see us dive in to how data visualization is being used in big tech, marketing, and scientific fields.
Infographics and Mini-Infographics
The common misconception about sharing big data sets is, “the more data, the better.” This is certainly true when you’re conducting a medical study. However, when you’re sharing the results of that study, it’s not always the case.
When you’re publishing a paper, you’ll probably want to include complete data sets in a series of appendices. This is standard in the health industry, and is done for the sake of transparency, as well as to provoke discussion. But you might also want to include data visualizations that highlight key takeaways, and these shouldn’t try to visualize everything — far from it. You’ll want to highlight only the most compelling data, and represent that data clearly by making sure it’s not cluttered with other, less compelling data. Check out the infographics that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is publishing for some examples.
These same types of visualizations can be used for sharing important information with patients or customers. They don’t need to know every detail of how a study was conducted; they need quick, actionable takeaways. Data visualizations of single data points, or mini-infographics featuring a small data set, are ideal for sharing on social media. Longer-form, scrolling infographics are great for sharing on your website or in a blog post. Take a look at this infographic, which visualizes healthcare-related infections:
Dashboards that help medical professionals quickly analyze large sets of data can save time, and can even save lives. In one case study, the development of a dashboard to visualize electronic health record data resulted in a 65% reduction in time spent on data analysis in the first year alone, with further gains projected for the future.
Health industry leaders acknowledge the power of such tools. “We have all of these disparate sources coming together, and leaders want to know how they use that to figure out why something is happening, what to do about it, and what to expect in the future,” explained Sanket Shah, director of client management at Blue Health Intelligence, in an interview with Health IT Analytics. “You can only get those answers by getting your hands on the actual data — and you can only understand it when it’s presented in a human-readable way. … Much of the time, unless you’re a highly trained data analyst, a visualization is the best way to make data comprehensible to the end user.”
Custom Health Industry Charts and Graphs
A number of health organizations have started to publish graphs and charts that are custom-made for the data they’re presenting. What’s more, they’re interactive and customizable according to the data the viewer wishes to see visualized. (More on interactive content next.)
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is just one of the many organizations sharing such visualizations. Check out their customizable visualization of cause-of-death data here. The National Center for Health Statistics also offers some fantastic customizable graphs that distill huge data sets into usable data visualizations.
When you have a huge set of data to share, you can’t always select just a few key points to highlight. This is often the case when, for example, you’re looking at state-by-state health data across a variety of metrics. Still, certain aspects of that data may be more important than others to different members of your audience. Alaska doctors, for example, might primarily be interested in Alaska trends.
If this describes the kind of data set you’re working with, an interactive widget or dashboard may be the best fit for your content. Interactivity allows the viewer to customize the content or dataset to his or her needs, and find that data quickly without having to wade through a lot of content that they’re just not interested in. For an example, check out this interactive map from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
If you’ve got a series of data visualizations that work together to tell a larger story, you might find that it’s best to present them in a motion graphic. While a live-action video is also an option if you have great footage, the data visualization will require at least some animation overlay.
For an example of a fully animated version, take a look at “The History of Vaccines,” a motion graphic Killer designed for Carrington College. The piece shares some fundamental information about vaccines, how they work, and how they’ve been used over time, organized in such a way to create a narrative, a clear trajectory of thought. It’s a strong example of how the health industry can break down complex ideas so that they’re understandable to the average person.
The type of data you’re working with and the audience you’re targeting will both determine the best type of medium and data visualization to use. In just about any case, however, data visualizations make crunching big data sets more efficient, and yield bigger insights as a result.
Watch our blog in the coming weeks and months for more installments in our Data Visualization in Industry series.