Study provides insight into what makes an effective health-related dashboard

Since the onset of the pandemic and the resulting vast amount of complex dynamic data available, health-related dashboards have become ubiquitous as the public, healthcare providers and administrators, and public health and government officials continually reach out for and evaluate vital, accurate information to support decision making. But use as well as direct and indirect impact of dashboards have been poorly understood.

A new study published in BMJ Health & Care Informatics explores decades of dashboards designed to communicate health data providing insight into what makes an effective dashboard.

"The purpose of dashboards is to integrate and transform data into information displays that support decision making. Well-designed dashboards visualize information in a manner that increases awareness and understanding of situations at a glance, providing clear and actionable information," said study co-author and human factors engineer April Savoy, PhD, a Regenstrief Institute and U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs health services researcher and a Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI assistant professor of computer and information technology. "The best dashboards are designed with a clear understanding of users' information needs and tasks. With that understanding these dashboards are user-centered and clearly convey accurate and relevant information to inform decision-making or increased awareness."

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need to understand vast amounts of data, often from different sources such as number of cases, spread of the disease, trends and other factors to aid both personal and professional decision making. Thus, many dashboards emerged; some more helpful than others. In this age of misinformation and disinformation, it is imperative to evaluate perceived quality of data, credibility of sources, and overall effectiveness. Findings could guide the design of dashboard enhancements and customizations that aid decisions, including which dashboards should be used."

Dr. April Savoy, PhD, Regenstrief Institute and U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs health services researcher

Leading dashboard conceptualizations stem from information displays in automobiles. The driver doesn't need to understand the complex mechanics under the hood to comprehend what the dashboard is indicating. Today, dashboard indicators convey information about many aspects of a vehicle's performance including speed, amount of gasoline in the tank and need to check the engine. Similarly, viewing a user-focused health dashboard obviates the need to understand vast amounts of data as it visually conveys explanatory information about number of cases of a disease, trends and other factors in a way that is user friendly.

The new BMJ Health & Care Informatics study, "Dashboards for visual display of patient safety data: a systematic review," examined research on dashboards published from 1950 to 2018 and found almost none employed tenets of user-centered design. The review highlighted a paucity of evaluations of intended audiences' needs as well as noting the lack of testing for effectiveness and user satisfaction.

Authors, in addition to Dr. Savoy, are Daniel R. Murphy, M.D., MBA; Tyler Satterly, M.Eng; and Hardeep Singh, M.D., MPH of the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston and Dean F. Sittig, PhD of the University of Texas.

The study was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (grant: K08-HS022901) and the Houston VA Health Services Research and Development Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety (grant: CIN13-413).

Source:
Journal reference:

Murphy, D.R., et al. (2021) Dashboards for visual display of patient safety data: a systematic review. BMJ Health & Care Informatics. doi.org/10.1136/ bmjhci-2021-100437.

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