Visualizing Healthcare

As a teacher, I want to spread the gospel of data visualization far and wide, but only in ways that I can do it well. It’s tempting to have my books translated into other languages, but if I don’t understand them, I can’t confirm the quality of the work, so I refrain. My data visualization courses could reach more people if I produced electronic versions of them, but I haven’t found a way to create rich learning experiences without interacting with my students directly, so I continue looking for new ways to bend technology and instructional methods to my needs. I could also extend my reach by allowing others to teach my courses, but to do so I would need to supervise their work, which is not how I want to spend my time. Anyone with a teaching mission faces this challenge.

Another way to reach more people with the content of my work, which I’ve enthusiastically embraced, involves collaboration with like-minded individuals in a way that requires no supervision, because there is a clear separation between their work and mine. I teach fundamental principles and practices in a generic manner so they can be applied by organizations of all types—businesses, schools, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. I try to make the concepts as easy to understand and broadly applicable as possible. It is often useful, however, to tailor these concepts for particular audiences, addressing their particular needs using data and examples that are relevant to them. If I were to do this myself, I’d have little time left to build the broader foundation of principles, practices, and skills that are so desperately needed. The truth is, others can adapt my work to meet the needs of specific audiences much better than I ever could, because they already know these specialized audiences well.

This vision is now being realized in the healthcare sector, thanks to the work of my friend and colleague, Katherine Rowell. I first met Kathy when she invited me to do some internal teaching and consulting for the healthcare data company QC Metrix, where she worked at the time. Since then, she has become a powerful advocate for the use of data visualization to improve the quality of healthcare, based on the greater insights and improved outcomes that good visual sensemaking and presentation practices can provide. Her specialized data visualization services are now being offered through Katherine S. Rowell & Associates.

Using my three books as the conceptual foundation of her work, she’s developing her own healthcare-specific versions of my courses. If you’re involved in healthcare, I encourage you to review her website and see what’s she’s doing. Perhaps sign up for her free newsletter while you’re at it. I found her most recent newsletter article, “Data Visualization Double Take,” about a misleading chart related to the importance of mammograms, interesting and insightful.

When I was invited by the World Health Organization (WHO) to teach and advise them next May, I asked Kathy if she’d join me for that week in Geneva. Even though I usually work alone, this is the kind of collaboration that excites me, because I know it will produce a better outcome for this important organization than I could ever produce on my own.

What Kathy Rowell in doing for healthcare, others could do elsewhere. For instance, I would warmly welcome someone with expertise in the visual analysis and presentation of education data who wanted to develop specialized data visualization services for educators. Helping particular audiences discover and apply the power of data visualization is fertile ground for exciting and meaningful work.

Take care,

3 Comments on “Visualizing Healthcare”

By Philip Keogh. January 5th, 2011 at 4:45 am

Hi Stephen.

Just a quick observation regarding the first paragraph of the blog and translating. I would recommend, if you have not already done so, to have a read of Douglas R. Hofstadter’s book “Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language”.

I find it very reminiscent of of both yours and Edward Tufte’s work, but this is based on language. It is a beautiful read.

Kind regards

By Ladi Omole. January 12th, 2011 at 12:11 pm


I think it is good to let you know that each time I see misrepresented or ambiguous data visualization; my mind echo “What will Steve say?” Your work has influence my approach to data visualization and I am sure I am not the only one. I have been opportune to witness Information Technology metamorphosis from dumb-terminal to cloud-terminal. I’ve experienced IT from SW thru NE of your revolutionary masterpiece article “BI Has Hit the wall” (

Katherine’s work is a food for thought to start showcasing these misrepresented data.
Charity begins at home; I am hoping to start with my current clients. So watch out.

Keep up the good work.

Ladi Omole

By Roberto Guandique. January 12th, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Steve you are right, others can adapt your work to satisfy the needs of other specific audiences, but I do believe, as you say, that collaboration in your part sometimes might be required to lend clarification to some conceptual applications. I believe that an important part of the practice of Business Intelligence involves the right interpretation and use of the correct visualization of information and not too many vendors/consultants seems to address it correctly. My present enjoyment is to teach at Universities in Latin America, where as you know, the language is Spanish and Portuguese. What I do is to adapt the latest techniques and insights from us (USA), and transfer that knowledge in the correct language addressed to the specific audience. I used to do this while I worked for IBM too. My ultimate goal is to contribute more to enhance knowledge and transfer to other professionals in Latin America, the experiences gained in many years and in so many countries practicing consulting services. One channel I use to do this is to publish a monthly newsletter ( and through Seminars in collaboration with local Universities. For this year there are plans to “translate” some HBR (with the right permission, already granted) articles. FYI .This is another channel to add value to your reach into other countries. Keep up your good work! Thanks.