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Using Data Visualization to Improve Healthcare Disparities

February 8, 2023

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Although we hear this adage in many different contexts, I often feel that in health care, we would rather use a thousand words than a picture.

But often a visual depiction tells the story much better than a string of words can. This is why I was drawn to the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice article being early released this week in Pediatrics, entitled “Equity Dashboards: Data Visualizations for Assessing Inequities in a Hospital Setting” (10.1542/peds.2022-058848). In this article, Dr. Darren Migita and colleagues at the University of Washington describe the use of an equity dashboard that hospital staff can use to quickly review specific metrics, such as readmission rates, length of stay, and use of specific order sets, to see if there are inequities.

Data are powerful. And it turns out when the data are right in front of people, the findings may be harder to ignore. The authors describe several projects that emanated from the data shown in the equity dashboards. For example, the epilepsy monitoring team noted differences in length of stay, and determined that these differences were due to disparities in epilepsy surgery referrals for non-English speaking patients. This realization resulted in practice changes to lessen these disparities.

Think about how you might be able to use visual depiction of data to promote change and decrease inequities. Even if you don’t have the capacity to create electronic dashboards, even graphs hung on bulletin boards can work to bring attention to changes that are needed.

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