The Many Benefits Of Presenting Medical Information In A Visual Format

Data Visualization

With expanding technologies and the digitalization of information storage, modern industries and fields of research, from science to economics, now find more and more use for digital data visualization.

Data visualization is the visual representation of abstract data, usually through graphs and charts, that can be interacted with in order to gain a more detailed grasp of the subject being studied. And the field of medicine is no stranger to it.

Digital data collection and visualization has proven vitally useful in many areas of the medical field, from basic research, to tracking diseases, to decision-making and analyses amongst doctors. Whatever its use, data visualization first and foremost allows doctors to adapt to and effectively utilize the ever-growing amount of finely detailed information and data contributed to medical research. Not only does presenting the data in a visual format improve a researcher’s ability to interpret it, but digitalizing the information provides its own benefits such as programmed software’s ability to filter, harmonize and summarize large amounts of data in order to quicken and improve the accuracy of data search results.

Benefits of data visualization for patients and researchers

Jon Duke of Regenstrief Institute, and developer of Rxplorer, a visualisation tool for research on patients who take multiple prescription drugs, points out that doctors have a “very low tolerance for time-wasting and a specific set of needs.” Current drug resources which consist of isolated, dense text and tables on individual drugs inhibit efficient research and prevent easy comparisons and synthesis of data.

Another benefit of using data visualization is that it allows researchers to more easily find potentially dangerous errors, caused by something as simple as a typo, hidden in the massive amounts of data. University of Maryland computer science professor, Ben Schneiderman, points out that “data visualization is worthwhile for the data cleaning capabilities alone.”

However, a certain level of skill is required of the individuals utilizing the data visualization tools as well. In the same way we can not rely on a calculator to explain the meaning behind the numbers it computes, researchers cannot expect data visualization software to draw conclusions for all of our medical concerns on its own.  Michael Ackerman of the Mayo Clinic, and creator of the Visible Human Project, explains that data visualization is not a literal representation but in fact tells a story through metaphors. Design and representation that is both intuitive and communicative is highly important, since accuracy in the end relies on researchers’ ability to interpret and draw conclusions from a visual format.

Nicolas di Tada of InSTEDD explains that with the ease and convenience provided by data visualization technology still comes the need for hard work and flexible thinking. “We try to keep an open mind and try not to see everything as a nail just because we happen to have a hammer,” he says. “We have a set of tools that we adapt and evolve, we use third-party tools when they fit, and when there’s a need for something new, we build it from scratch.

Fortunately, with so much accessible data, the likelihood of medical researching having to start from scratch is getting slimmer and slimmer. With innovative software that allows for access at any time, not to mention real-time sharing and communication capabilities between researchers, digital information data storage and visualization is expanding, accelerating and overall improving medical research like never before.

Samantha Hendricks
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