36531 Bringing Health and Environmental Data to Life

Preston Burt, Health Communications Specialist - Carter Consulting, Inc. For Centers For Disease Control and Prevention - Environmental Health Tracking Branch, Environmental Health Tracking Branch, Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA

Background: Charts, maps, and graphs are standard data visualization styles for many scientific, medical, and public health professionals. However, these types of data displays can be challenging for non-scientific users.  For people without scientific training or with limited time, it can be difficult to sort through gigabytes of data in an online surveillance system. CDC addressed this challenge by offering a wide array of resources on the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network (Tracking Network) to meet the needs of different groups. From infographics and animated timeline maps to easy-to-interpret comparison charts and a new Info by Location system, CDC? communicates data effectively in a variety of ways.

Program background: 

The Tracking Network is a dynamic surveillance system that provides information and data about environmental hazards and related health problems. It presents what is known about where environmental hazards exist, where people are exposed to hazards, and how people can take action to protect health, reduce illness, and save lives. The audiences for the Tracking Network include epidemiologists and researchers, health care providers, health educators, decision-makers, concerned parents, and more. These audiences have a diverse set of skills for interpreting health data.

Evaluation Methods and Results:  CDC conducted web usability testing, focus groups, and audience segmentation analysis to learn preferences and requirements of our target audiences for information and data display on the Tracking Network. Key findings from the combined audience testing results revealed that: 1) information and data needed to be easy to understand in a visually appealing way for non-scientific audiences; 2) busy public health professionals, researchers, and other scientists often do not have time to analyze and interpret data on their own and may need data displays that showcase easy-to-interpret trends analyses; and 3) because data users and other key audiences cannot be expected to come to your website,  information must be put into the communication channels they already use.

Conclusions:  New data and information visualization tools based on evaluation results including a redesigned Info by Location (IBL) feature to present information to Tracking Network users who want to see quick facts about a county or state without having to delve into the data query system were successful. Analysis of Web usage statistics indicate that the IBL feature is acceptable and appropriate, showing a 150% increase in user traffic in the first 30 days following the launch.  Additional evaluation findings have informed the creation of dynamic time-phased maps to visualize trends over time and infographics that graphically display facts, key messages, and cues to action for health behavior and health protection.

Implications for research and/or practice: Simple data and information visualization tools can increase access to important surveillance data and health protection messages.  Audience-centered resources are important for making complex data easier to understand and use by all user groups.