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Visualizing Health


Patients and the public are being inundated with a flood of health data and being asked to take a greater role in applying this data to make medical decisions regarding their own health.

While general guidelines exist for "best practices" in medical risk communication, this work has not always considered the specific communication goals of the risk message or the specific information or practical needs of the patient. The  Communicating Health and Risk Messages (CHARM) project will address the gap in our current knowledge by informing the design of health risk data visualizations  across the full spectrum of risk communication goals.


The principle objectives of the CHARM project are to identify health data visualization formats that best address patient-centered needs for risk information. We will asses these needs in relation to four central health risk communication goals:

  1. Create awareness of health risk,
  2. Recognize health status and generate appropriate motivation to act,
  3. Judge the effectiveness of medical interventions, and
  4. Understand the trade-offs between different medical treatments.
The primary outcomes for evaluation of the health data visualizations will be the "gist" comprehension (e.g., understanding the basic meaning) of the risk data, verbatim recall of the risk data, perceived risk, affective response to the risk data (e.g., concern or worry), and (where appropriate) motivation to act to reduce risk.


We will test the visualizations to see which ones make the most sense to ordinary individuals -- not health professionals. We will use three tools to test our images.

  1. Google Consumer Surveys. (GCS) is a new service for collecting data online. It can be a very quick (days, not weeks) and inexpensive for getting small amounts of data on specific questions. If you only need to ask one or two questions, you can get that data for a fraction of the cost of other online surveys.
  2. Survey Sampling International + Qualtrics. SSI is an online survey panel that includes millions of people who are willing to take surveys. Qualtrics is an online survey tool that enables you quickly develop online surveys. We will program and post a survey in Qualtrics, and then use SSI to recruit people who have particular characteristics. Compared to GCS, it takes a little longer to get data, but we will get more data because SSI participants take longer surveys.
  3. Amazon Mechanical Turk. MTurk has people ("Workers") who agree to be part of MTurk and do small jobs (HITs, "Human Intelligence Tasks") for others who need it done ("Requesters"). In return, they get paid. The fact that MTurk participants treat surveys like jobs is both good and bad. It means they do their best to answer our questions. But it is not a true proxy for how people might react in real life.