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Effective Data Dashboards in the Clinical Setting
By T. Forcht Dagi, MD, DMed Sc, MPH
Note: This is the first of a three-part series. Part I provides an overview of data dashboards in the clinical setting; Part II reviews the history and evolution of dashboards; and Part III advises best practices for undertaking a dashboard project.
Clinical dashboards have been suggested as a tool to improve patient outcomes in a number of clinical settings, and especially in complex surgical care, where there are many moving parts that need to be coordinated to mitigate risk and improve results. While clinical dashboards certainly reflect the successful integration of tools used in industries outside healthcare into clinical medicine, their deployment has not received much attention.
A dashboard represents a method of converting data into structured information delivered graphically and dynamically. A dashboard also constitutes a method of displaying selected data dynamically so that trends and changes can be evaluated rapidly and–though this is rarely emphasized–holistically even by individuals not technically trained. The dashboard must meet standards of legibility. It must be comprehensible to a greater or lesser extent on its face. It must support analysis. It must be coherent.
The comprehensibility standard is directed not at the implications of data change but at the fact that data have changed or are changing. A speedometer makes for a good illustration. A speedometer indicates movement and speed, and if watched over time, acceleration and change in speed. It does not indicate velocity. It does not disclose, without additional inputs, whether the speed achieved is legal or not, or optimal for road conditions. On the other hand, its use is transparent after the most rudimentary instruction.
Thus, the process that results in a useful dashboard involves the extraction of data from a source database, the transformation of these data into useful metrics, and their presentation in useful ways. From a managerial perspective, dashboards offer key information to those with operational responsibilities that allow them to monitor those operational responsibilities for which they are responsible. A successful dashboard is capable of displaying and integrating data from many sources, of supporting metrics derived from complex calculations, of refreshing information on the screen in real time (or as close to it as practicable), and of allowing the observer to interact with the data at least to the extent that he or she can drill down from the summary material displayed to some level of underlying supporting data.
Patient monitors in the ICU and the OR designed to integrate and display multiple lines of data constitute an excellent example of an effective, if limited dashboard. The monitor displays the graphical interface. The display is important. What matters more, however, are the parameters chosen, the information that is conveyed, the ability to detect rapid changes as well as trends, a keen understanding of the implications of any changes, and the algorithms chosen to trigger alarms.
(Coming Soon … Part II: The History and Evolution of Data Dashboards)
As Vice Chancellor and Dean of Health Informatics Management, Dr. T. Forcht Dagi oversees the Associate Degree in Health Information Technology and the Master of Science in Applied Health Informatics programs at Bryan University. He holds undergrad degrees from The Juilliard School and Columbia University, and his medical degree and master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he earned a master’s in business administration with distinction from Wharton School of Business, and was awarded an honorary doctor of medical science degree by Queen’s University Belfast for his contributions to medicine and public service. In addition to his role at Bryan University, he serves as a lecturer at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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