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Visualization Literacy and Decision-making in Healthcare

Author: Stacey Weil, MS (2022)

Primary advisor: Angela Ross, DNP

Committee members: Amy Franklin, PhD, Mike Wilkinson, PhD,

DHI Translational Project, The UTHealth Houston School of Biomedical Informatics



The ability of workers in the healthcare industry to analyze, interpret and communicate with health data is critical to decision-making and impacts both health and business outcomes. Optimal decision-making requires having real-time access to information that provides useful insights and that lends itself to collaborative decision-making.  Data visualizations have the potential to facilitate decision-making in healthcare when presented as a dashboard. However, dashboards have shown varying results in both effectiveness and adoption. Data or graphical literacy challenges experienced by health team members could complicate strategic decision-making through an inability to correctly interpret or summarize the information presented in a dashboard.  One assumption is that visualization literacy and its impact on how people process health data visualizations play a part in the effective interpretation of information to support decision-making.  

To determine the impact of visualization literacy on the process of decision-making in a healthcare setting, we first developed and deployed a dashboard designed to provide important information for decision-makers on a clinical trial management team.  We engaged Project Managers and Medical Managers in the project as key decision-makers on the team.  The dashboard was integrated into the normal workflow of a clinical trial management team and designated as the tool used in the workflow to report on the trial status within the organization. Next, we administered a series of assessments to the key decision-makers.  The assessments were designed to evaluate numeracy, visualization literacy, and the impact of both on the decision-making ability of participants.  Decision-making was assessed using a common workflow scenario supported by visualizations from the deployed dashboard.  Additionally, we were interested in exploring indicators related to job satisfaction that was collected during the project period through a formal engagement survey.

We performed a general linear model to assess the relationship between the assessments and decision-making. Results of our project show a significant and clear relationship between visualization literacy and decision-making ability and an insignificant relationship between numeracy and decision-making ability.  Job satisfaction scores for the participant group obtained through the engagement survey suggest favorable results. However, areas of opportunity for improvement illuminated through the survey included better tools and additional resources to support the execution of tasks, a better workload balance, and improvements in collaboration across departments and functions.  

The results of this project contribute to the informatics discipline by demonstrating that information obtained from data visualizations produced through the aggregation of multiple sources of data can be effective decision-support tools if they are designed with user skills and abilities in mind.  The results of the project suggest an opportunity to develop more useful and usable tools to improve job satisfaction as well as organizational business objectives related to workforce staffing, job competencies, and learning and development initiatives.