Visualizing health care data: plain language, intuitive videos

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The editors of the Columbia Journalism Review weigh in on the media's uneven treatment of the health care debate:

So far this year 55 percent of coverage of health care has been about the political battles, 16 percent about the protests, and only 8 percent about substantive issues like how the system works now, what will happen if it remains unchanged, and what proposed changes will mean for ordinary people.

To help reporters understand and analyze the debate, The Commonwealth Fund has sponsored a special supplement to the September/October issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Supposedly this supplement (download pdf) is for reporters, but it's certainly accessible enough for pretty much anyone. The Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health care think tank, does have an agenda - it released its own 90-page report on how health care ought to be reformed last spring - but this supplement is a well-referenced compilation of real numbers, for a conversation that rarely gets past yelling and name-calling to evidence.

Even better are these videos from Main Sequence, ("music, science, experiments") showing in a completely intutitive manner how health care spending is largely decoupled from outcomes:

The video is by Peter Aldhous, Jim Giles and MacGregor Campbell and can also be found at the New Scientist. There's also an interactive graph visualizing the rather dry OECD healthcare data from 1960 to 2007 , complete with tutorial on using the interface.

Good stuff - and proof that there is added value in multimedia visualization techniques. Campbell's old teacher Thomas Levenson had this to say:

These two interactives on health care [are] fine examples of why the web is a better delivery vehicle for mildly-enhanced prose than dead trees. There is a reason traditional newspapers/magazines are bound for dodo-land, and it isn't just MSM self-regard and feckless business decisions; the digital domain lets you do new, useful, sometimes transformative stuff with the material that is at the heart of the mission of traditional media: provide information within an apparatus that actually enhances a reader's ability to understand what the writer is going on about.

We need more information presented this way.

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