Can a picture replace 1,000 words of health record?

Andrew Boyd, assistant professor of biomedical and health information sciences.  Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

More than 85 percent of physicians use an electronic health record (EHR) system to document and coordinate patient care. The widespread use of EHRs has also made them a vital tool in research and in both quality and cost management, but UIC researchers say that EHRs are behind when it comes to data visualization.

Following a review of published literature on data visualization and analytics use in real-time clinical settings, researchers concluded that while visual analytics have been only cursorily applied to the health care field to date, visual thinking has the potential to improve care delivery.

“A fundamental issue contributing to fragmentation and poor coordination of health care delivery is that each member of the health care team, including patients, has a different view,” wrote the researchers, in a paper presented last month to the 16th World Congress on Medical and Health Informatics.

Andrew Boyd, assistant professor of biomedical and health information sciences in the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, said visualizations can be used to integrate data in a way that reduces the time it takes to search and consume all the separate data points contained in the EHR. This would, he said, help to share multiple points of view.

“Visual intelligence has the potential to change health care, as it has other industries,” said Boyd, the corresponding author on the paper who presented the study. “Imagine an EHR that uses visual models to present information instead of a series of fields requiring a user to read, interpret and mentally map the data in just a few seconds. Imagine now, that this information is available to all users and patients, and more directly incorporates all unique perspectives.”

“That’s the potential of visual thinking and tools in the EHR,” Boyd said.

Co-authors on the paper are Christine Young, Michael Dieter and Lawrence Pawola of UIC, and Margret Amatayakul, of the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences Advisory Board.