Show me the data

Technology forum

At the 2012 APhA Annual Meeting & Exposition, keynote speaker Thomas Goetz, MPH, told the audience that meaningful use of data would be “the next huge breakthrough of health care.” Goetz emphasized the importance of data analysis and usability for various audiences, including patients, health care providers, and policy makers. In a system where pharmacists are blazing a trail for the advancement of practice, how do we transition from bar graphs, pie charts, and tables to present data so it is easy to read?

There are a wide range of data visualization software or business intelligence tools available for different types of data. These programs can produce targeted dashboards, trend lines, cloud-based dashboards for public use, and interactive visual analytics. Programs such as Tableau and the free, open-source Gephi allow users to create innovative presentations of data. If you don’t have a eye for graphics yourself, the Visually online community connects designers with people who need help illustrating statistics.

Dashboards deliver quality data

One popular data visualization concept is the dashboard. Although dashboards are now widely used to help assess quality indicators for patients and providers alike, pharmacists may not be as familiar with receiving dashboards for performance feedback.

The dashboard medium usually displays targeted information important to the user and provides feedback that lets the user know how they are doing with respect to each indicator. In a car, the dashboard displays what’s important to the driver—speed, gas tank level, and other indicators that need immediate attention, such as engine temperature or tire pressure. A health care provider’s dashboard may display information on quality performance measures such as blood pressure, HIV screening, preventive immunizations, and glycosylated hemoglobin (A1C) monitoring. Dashboards for patients could display lab data, helping people see how successful they are in controlling their diabetes, hypertension, weight, and other health markers.

In the future, dashboards could even display how the performance of pharmacists and other health professionals stacks up to their colleagues. In fact, the first steps in this direction have already begun. In March 2013, the Pharmacy Quality Alliance (PQA) and CECity launched Pharmacy Quality Solutions, which will deliver EQuIPP (Electronic Quality Improvement Platform for Plans and Pharmacies), described in a news release as “the first national pharmacy quality measurement, benchmarking, and reporting platform for pharmacies and health plans.” This system will allow pharmacists to compare their performance on PQA measurements with their peers in “near real-time,” according to PQA and CECity.

Why data visualization matters

As the pharmacy profession evolves, pharmacists’ services are shifting from a product focus to a patient focus. The recent changes brought on by health care reform have led to discussion of pay-for-performance as a potential model for ensuring high-quality care. As pharmacists continue to deliver medication therapy management services for patients with chronic diseases, performance measurement and quality improvement will be key to improving the future outlook of pharmacy practice. Using data visualization, we can demonstrate our value as key members of the health care team and show the impact we can have on patients.

As this article has described, there are many programs available that offer users the tools to present data in a visually stimulating way. Pharmacists do not need to depend on such sophisticated tools to demonstrate the impact their interventions can have on patient care, however. Programs such as Microsoft Excel can also present data in forms beyond the traditional pie charts and bar graphs. Whatever tool you choose, be sure to use it in a way that makes your data more accessible and meaningful.

The next time you plan to deliver a presentation to demonstrate the impact of pharmacists on patient care, consider how you are presenting your data visually. Convey your message in a manner that makes your audience want to advocate for your cause, and you too can help improve the future of pharmacy practice.