What’s in Your Big Data? The Art and Science of Designing for Answers

August 1, 2014
William Balfour

by Jeremy Naiden, Product Manager

Here’s a question for you: What do big data, pink slime, and yoga mat chemicals have in common?

  • They’re mysterious (yoga mat chemicals baked in bread make it more “springy”)
  • They’re widely consumed (“pink slime” is reported to be in 70% of ground beef)
  • They’re frequently in the news (see the trend of “big data” searches on Google, below)

Google Big Data

While you and I may choose which foods we do and don’t want to eat, hospitals, systems, networks and physician practices aren’t so lucky. For them, consuming big data isn’t a choice, it is a matter of survival. Understanding the nuances, limitations, and benefits within the collective we call “big data” therefore is fundamental to asking the right questions and getting to the right answers.

Simplifying the complex Industry knowledge meets design, science meets art

The best designed things just work we’ve all felt the “magic” when something we’re using just clicks in our workflow. The vast amount of data available today and the promise of more data tomorrow is driving the need for thoughtfully designed visualization solutions. In applying a combination of healthcare industry experience and forecasting, client feedback, and data and interface expertise, we aim to do just that “create a great experience” with everything we design.

In recent work on the forthcoming update to our INCONTROL solution, our challenge was to design an answers-oriented interface which is both simple to use and complex in nature, clear and unambiguous, and capable of helping hospitals and systems understand every payment that comes through the door. Our efforts have been focused on transforming the world of healthcare data from the static data tables of yesterday to delivering “answers on the front screen.”

The world of big data continues to flatten not all solutions are made equal

As more data becomes available to healthcare providers and consumers alike, the pressure to interpret and present this data concisely is mounting.  While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services continues to sponsor events such as Health Datapalooza and various code-a-thon’s, and more people and vendors work to enter the industry, it is clear that those with industry experience and/or the passion to understand customers and meet and anticipate their needs will be the most successful in driving change, improving healthcare through the use of big data.

So, how do you know if a vendor has the right vision? Here are a few questions to consider during the evaluation process:

  1. Are they listening to the questions we must answer, today and tomorrow? Are they helping us to understand what is down the road with specific references to concerns and possible resolutions?
  2. Do they understand the vast array of available data sets and combine them in new, meaningful ways to help me understand my strengths and weaknesses for improvement as more data becomes available?
  3. Do they visualize data in a way that delivers value on the front screen with the ability to explore in more detail to connect the dots between hypotheses, often down to the case-level?
  4. Are they helpful, with the passion and resources to help bridge the gap between theory and execution?

Headline references to “pink slime” and “yoga mat chemicals” may come and go, but the concept of problem solving through smart questions and well informed answers will exist in perpetuity. Stay tuned as we continue to bring new innovations to healthcare providers helping them survive and thrive in an important, ever-changing industry our future health depends on it.



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