Simple visualizations in health research data, such as scatter plots, heat maps, and bar charts, typically present relationships between 2 variables. Interactive visualization methods allow for multiple related facets such as numerous risk factors to be studied simultaneously, leading to data insights through exploring trends and patterns from complex big health care data. The technique presents a powerful tool that can be used in combination with statistical analysis for knowledge discovery, hypothesis generation and testing, and decision support.
The primary objective of this scoping review is to describe and summarize the evidence of interactive visualization applications, methods, and tools being used in population health and health services research (HSR) and their subdomains in the last 15 years, from January 1, 2005, to March 30, 2019. Our secondary objective is to describe the use cases, metrics, frameworks used, settings, target audience, goals, and co-design of applications.
We adapted standard scoping review guidelines with a peer-reviewed search strategy: 2 independent researchers at each stage of screening and abstraction, with a third independent researcher to arbitrate conflicts and validate findings. A comprehensive abstraction platform was built to capture the data from diverse bodies of literature, primarily from the computer science and health care sectors. After screening 11,310 articles, we present findings from 56 applications from interrelated areas of population health and HSR, as well as their subdomains such as epidemiologic surveillance, health resource planning, access, and use and costs among diverse clinical and demographic populations.
In this companion review to our earlier systematic synthesis of the literature on visual analytics applications, we present findings in 6 major themes of interactive visualization applications developed for 8 major problem categories. We found a wide application of interactive visualization methods, the major ones being epidemiologic surveillance for infectious disease, resource planning, health service monitoring and quality, and studying medication use patterns. The data sources included mostly secondary administrative and electronic medical record data. In addition, at least two-thirds of the applications involved participatory co-design approaches while introducing a distinct category, embedded research, within co-design initiatives. These applications were in response to an identified need for data-driven insights into knowledge generation and decision support. We further discuss the opportunities stemming from the use of interactive visualization methods in studying global health; inequities, including social determinants of health; and other related areas. We also allude to the challenges in the uptake of these methods.
Visualization in health has strong historical roots, with an upward trend in the use of these methods in population health and HSR. Such applications are being fast used by academic and health care agencies for knowledge discovery, hypotheses generation, and decision support.
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