Health data is often big data due to its high volume, low veracity, great variety, and high velocity. Big health data has the potential to improve productivity, eliminate waste, and support a broad range of tasks related to disease surveillance, patient care, research, and population health management. Interactive visualizations have the potential to amplify big data’s utilization. Visualizations can be used to support a variety of tasks, such as tracking the geographic distribution of diseases, analyzing the prevalence of disease, triaging medical records, predicting outbreaks, and discovering at-risk populations. Currently, many health visualization tools use simple charts, such as bar charts and scatter plots, that only represent few facets of data. These tools, while beneficial for simple perceptual and cognitive tasks, are ineffective when dealing with more complex sensemaking tasks that involve exploration of various facets and elements of big data simultaneously. There is need for sophisticated and elaborate visualizations that encode many facets of data and support human-data interaction with big data and more complex tasks. When not approached systematically, design of such visualizations is labor-intensive, and the resulting designs may not facilitate big-data-driven tasks. Conceptual frameworks that guide the design of visualizations for big data can make the design process more manageable and result in more effective visualizations. In this paper, we demonstrate how a framework-based approach can help designers create novel, elaborate, non-trivial visualizations for big health data. We present four visualizations that are components of a larger tool for making sense of large-scale public health data.
Vector-borne diseases pose a major public health threat. Combined, these diseases contribute significantly to illness and mortality worldwide and have an adverse impact on development and economic growth of nations. Public health stakeholders seeking to control and prevent these diseases are confronted with a myriad of challenges. Some of these difficulties are related to the nature of the data, the uncertainty of disease dynamics, and volatility of human-environment interactions. Visualization tools are capable of ameliorating some of these challenges. In this paper, the authors demonstrate how interactive visualizations can support stakeholders’ decision-making tasks. In particular, they present a visualization tool they created that can support control efforts related to the recent Zika outbreak in Brazil.
Public health (PH) data can generally be characterized as big data. The efficient and effective use of this data determines the extent to which PH stakeholders can sufficiently address societal health concerns as they engage in a variety of work activities. As stakeholders interact with data, they engage in various cognitive activities such as analytical reasoning, decision-making, interpreting, and problem solving. Performing these activities with big data is a challenge for the unaided mind as stakeholders encounter obstacles relating to the data’s volume, variety, velocity, and veracity. Such being the case, computer-based information tools are needed to support PH stakeholders. Unfortunately, while existing computational tools are beneficial in addressing certain work activities, they fall short in supporting cognitive activities that involve working with large, heterogeneous, and complex bodies of data. This paper presents visual analytics (VA) tools, a nascent category of computational tools that integrate data analytics with interactive visualizations, to facilitate the performance of cognitive activities involving big data. Historically, PH has lagged behind other sectors in embracing new computational technology. In this paper, we discuss the role that VA tools can play in addressing the challenges presented by big data. In doing so, we demonstrate the potential benefit of incorporating VA tools into PH practice, in addition to highlighting the need for further systematic and focused research.
Public health professionals work with a variety of information sources to carry out their everyday activities. In recent years, interactive computational tools have become deeply embedded in such activities. Unlike the early days of computational tool use, the potential of tools nowadays is not limited to simply providing access to information; rather, they can act as powerful mediators of human-information discourse, enabling rich interaction with public health information. If public health informatics tools are designed and used properly, they can facilitate, enhance, and support the performance of complex cognitive activities that are essential to public health informatics, such as problem solving, forecasting, sense-making, and planning. However, the effective design and evaluation of public health informatics tools requires an understanding of the cognitive and perceptual issues pertaining to how humans work and think with information to perform such activities. This paper draws on research that has examined some of the relevant issues, including interaction design, complex cognition, and visual representations, to offer some human-centered design and evaluation considerations for public health informatics tools.