How Hospital CFOs Can Use Data Visualization Tools

March 3, 2016 David Beto
Why Hospital Finance Directors Should Never Be Afraid to Invest in Data Visualization Tools

Data visualization can make healthcare decision making safer, easier and more profitable

Data visualization is a hot buzzword in business today. But what is it? Data visualization is taking raw data and presenting it to the consumer in a visual format — a graph, an infographic, a chart. It’s not a new concept. What is new is the way data visualization is accomplished. Rather than a designer and a copywriter working together at a drafting board — the way graphs were produced in the old days — modern, integrated software solutions allow easily consumed visuals to be produced directly and automatically from databases.

So what value do data visualization tools hold for the healthcare industry? In short, they can make decision-making safer, more profitable and more easily undertaken. Intelligent data visualization tools can be a major investment, but they're a worthwhile expense for hospital finance directors who are looking to get better visibility and insights from their data.

Decision-making in the absence of effective data visualization.

Data presented in an uninteresting or non-engaging manner is much less likely to be absorbed. You’ve heard people say, “I stared at it until I was bleary-eyed,” haven’t you?

Imagine being forced to pick through a table or a list for the pertinent insights, for every hospital business decision you need to make. Few of us have the ability to look at a set of data and figure out in our heads what the distribution curve would look like, or to figure out a regression analysis slope on the fly. Moreover, imagine doctors trying to do so on the ward. Visualization software integrated with searchable data in a patient’s electronic medical record is immensely useful in the detection of developing or worsening illnesses across a wide variety of specialties: internal medicine, oncology, bariatrics and nutrition science, geriatrics, pediatrics, endocrinology, neurology and even emergency medicine.

Why cogent storytelling matters to your healthcare enterprise.

As any physician can tell you, one of the the most important parts of the diagnosis process is obtaining the patient’s history of present illness. The devil isn’t necessarily in the details — it’s in the overall trend. And that’s why effective data visualization is so necessary. It presents the details in a way that suggests an overall trend. It makes it harder to miss pertinent information.

Data visualization not only helps providers and managers alike make better, more informed decisions — it may increase job satisfaction and could even improve staff retention rates.

A study of European office workers conducted by retail software solution provider Epicor and ICM Research found that 40 percent of employees experience higher-than-normal stress levels when making decisions in the face of what they believe to be incomplete or imperfect information.

An effective data visualization solution can reduce staffers’ anxieties across the enterprise by giving people at every level access to real-time, accurate data and in a manner that is readily digestible.

Now let’s extrapolate: consider the consequences on a provider or clinical manager’s stress level when they are forced to make life-affecting decisions in the absence of easily understood information. For that matter, consider the long-term consequences for a hospital or care provision system if C-suite members make the wrong moves because they missed important, informative points.

Data visualization software can help hospitals smooth out the decision-making process both on the wards and in the back offices. It places data in context. It provides a vehicle for the accurate reporting and clear storytelling that providers and managers need to understand the situations they are faced with. And that can only improve outcomes and profitability.

The hallmarks of a good data visualization solution.

Why is data visualization so effective? It has a lot to do with the way the human brain evolved.

Early hominids were probably more reliant on their eyes than were other mammals (canines, for example, have better senses of hearing and smell than we do, but we see in color and Fido does not). Visual cues — motion, color, size and shape — warned them of environmental dangers. Visual information (travelling at the speed of light, approximately 186,000 miles per second) transmits much faster and over longer distances than sound (at least, on land) or smell.

Additionally, our visual cortexes are hardwired to the part of our brain that helps to control voluntary reflexes. So, as soon as light-encoded information reaches the visual cortex, the processing of that information begins, even before the information is passed along and taken up by the logic centers of the brain. That enables us to make split-second, near intuitive decisions based on visual information alone. And that ability helped to give our ancestors a competitive advantage in the wild. Simply put, we could avoid more danger faster.

There are many ways for data visualization software to leverage that innate ability. Here are a few to look for when you search for your hospital’s solution:

  • Automatic graph generation. The more versatile, the better. You need more than simple pie charts and line graphs. You need 3D charting, regression analysis tools, scatter-plotting and heat-mapping capabilities.
  • Easy-to-use design tools. A lot of time can be saved if design tools are built directly in to the program, so that graphic designers and systems engineers don’t have to cut and paste data into Photoshop or CAD-type programs. Graphics that show relativity through shape and size differentials, or connectedness via grouping, can greatly aid a decision-maker.
  • Color coding. Another easily processed method of cataloguing, differentiating or associating key data groupings.
  • Animation capability. Use motion to convey trends in your patient population’s health and show how they morph over time. Use animated cells to illustrate the ebbs and flows of your hospital’s revenue cycle or to discover revenue leaks.
  • Scalability. A good data visualization program should allow the user to narrow the focus, or expand it, simply by clicking on a data point or toggling the center wheel on the mouse.


A data visualization solution will help your healthcare organization glean more meaningful insights.

It’s one thing to mine your hospital’s data and extract actionable intelligence. It’s another thing entirely to possess the means of effectively communicating that intelligence to providers, managers, members of the hospital’s executive team and the board.

A robust data visualization tool can help you do that. It can be used to develop targeted, consumable marketing pieces and patient communications. And it can help you to develop streamlined, easily-understood finance reports for your hospital.

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