#TableauIsWhy I see the underlying data that matters most…
I had been using Tableau for a few years as a consultant at Teknion Data Solutions, when I built what I felt was one of the best dashboards I had ever created up to that point. It was a Patient Readmission dashboard that allowed doctors and patient care specialists at a hospital to find readmissions of patients based on all kinds of dynamic parameters and filters such as the window of time, the diagnosis codes, the procedures, and the attending physicians.
It’s one of the most technically intricate dashboards I have ever built and it required using quite a few advanced features of Tableau: data blending, layered table calculations, complex action filters, and context filters. Additionally I had to work closely with the data modeling and ETL teams to make sure the source data was in exactly the right shape and contained the fields necessary to work seamlessly in Tableau.
When I was done, I had a dashboard of which I was very proud. It was something that, short of a custom application, only Tableau could do – with its unique abilities and features.
And then, I actually used the dashboard…
… and clicked on the mark that indicated a patient visit…
…and I saw the details of the patient:
That was a moment of clarity. The data wasn’t just numbers and text and structures. The marks weren’t just bars and circles and lines.
The mark I had clicked on represented the real stay in a real hospital by a real person who had a lot of very real serious issues in their life. The line in the Gantt chart was a part of their life – how she had visited the hospital multiple times to be treated and hopefully made well.
And I realized that data visualization and dashboards aren’t just a way to see data – they are ways to change things for the better. Hospitals could use this dashboard to understand and improve patient care. Stays could be shortened, procedures could be analyzed to see which were more effective, and readmission rates could be cut. Real things could be made better.
From a technical perspective, I always tell others the first question to ask is “What does one record of my data represent?” But that’s also a good question to ask from a human perspective as well.
Is a record of data a human life? Does the mark on a graph represent an individual’s job performance? Does the bar chart of sales impact commissions for people trying to make a living?
The responsibility to get things right is immense for those of use engaged in data visualization and visual analytics. We must not think of the data as merely numbers, dates, and text. The data and the visualization of the data impacts real lives. We must dig deeper to understand the underlying data that matters most.
And the opportunity to make a positive difference is great…
Each mark is a population in slavery
“The Adoption Gap”
Each mark is a country and the number of households needed to adopt all orphans in that country
Each mark is a species with indication to its endangered status