Every Picture Tells a Story: Visualization Matters, Especially When the Alternative is Data Deluge

These days it is difficult not to see the virtues of Big Data extolled for every industry. And while we applaud taking a data-driven approach to gain clarity and support new ideas and strategies, we also know that data alone cannot not provide insight or tell a meaningful story that leads to better and more informed decisions. At Context Matters, we have always believed in the power of data visualization. Instead of focusing on large volumes of raw data and data mining techniques to discover insights, we begin with a strong emphasis on viewing data in a meaningful way. Our process starts by considering which types of data we can combine to give a more complete picture of the increasingly complex drug development and reimbursement process.

We always start with the end result − a dashboard, map or graph − that will provide our users with a high level of insight and give a quick, but powerful view of concepts they previously could not compare. We then curate the data to allow for comparison and insight. As a result, our data and approach are changing the way companies develop drugs and assess their portfolios; and can be applied to a variety of industries around the globe.

Recently, ModernHealthcare.com published an article about data deluge in the emergency room, in which poor displays and a plethora of alerts on patient-safety issues may be contributing to creating errors in physician orders. This is a great example of how without better visualization incorporated into a workflow, it doesn’t matter how much data you actually track. If the data does not lend itself to easy (and not overwhelming) comprehension, it is the equivalent of having no data at all.

In addition, Fast Company published a great article about Twitter visualization and how to gain insights from the "fire hose" of Twitter's full data stream. One of the most compelling graphics was a visualization based on historical data from twitter, showing language distribution around the world in a single view.

At Context Matters, we did something interesting with the oncology drugs in our flagship product the Reimbursement Risk Tracker. We decided to use a map visualization to give our users the ability to quickly understand how global reimbursement decisions for a single drug could be different across several oncology indications. By visualizing the data, we were able to provide an incredible amount of information into a single page view, making it easy to comprehend, and empowering our users with insights and stories directly from the map.

When you know how to use data and allow it to tell you meaningful stories, that's when things really start to become fun and insightful! Economist Steven Levitt (of Freakeconomics fame) has a great point of view when it comes to data storytelling. In an interview with Fast Company, he talked about how companies rarely do anything exciting with the data they already have. His advice is to go collect the data and instead of having an answer, just see what the data tells you.