I recently read an article from Ancestry.com on the most popular surnames by state. My interest was piqued while perusing social media and clicking one of those running tags whose headline typically says one thing, then ultimate ends up being a sales pitch for weight loss supplements. In reading the article however, I was struck by how social media is changing our impression of and approach to data analytics and business intelligence.
The article immediately drew the reader in through a simple state-to-state visual comparison of names documented within the White Pages that were aggregated by location and time, all within a map of the United States. By just adding in a cool infographic, Ancestry.com just humanized statistical analysis in a way my college math professors never could.
Statistical equations haven’t changed. New math or the Common Core has not revolutionized the analytic process. Yet the art of visual science and the social media bandwagon has simplified for the masses what millions have struggled with for years – understanding the world around us through mathematics.
In my world of healthcare informatics and business intelligence, we have produced scatterplots, trend graphs, and pie charts for years hoping to enlighten our colleagues and improve our patients’ lives through descriptive and inferential statistics. While technically effective, we’ve often missed point with our audience since the results required a 5-page peer review article and instruction manual to decipher the findings.
Business Intelligence tools have vastly improved the health analytic process in the last 5 years by enabling the end user to view and absorb data in a way they never have before. The introduction of infographics/tiles however, has moved us to the next level of information exchange. We now have the ability to expand our ability to share information to the general population-at-large without a PhD dissertation to explain the context. The potential for this is immense.
One of the guys I work with likens this new way of visual science to apps like Angry Birds or Candy Crush. No one needs an instruction manual to play these games. They are built to be clean, simple, and easy to use – technically, graphically, and visually. As a result, they are adopted widely and very successful. So why can’t we take the same basic approach to healthcare analytics?
Angry Birds obviously cannot be a one-to-one comparison to the complex algorithms created and presented in health systems every day and the paradigm shift to visually simplify statistical results is still in its infancy. But, it is gaining ground quickly and I am excited to see where it will take us next.
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