Making data more meaningful: patients' views of the format and content of quality indicators comparing health care providers

Patient Educ Couns. 2012 Aug;88(2):298-304. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2012.02.006. Epub 2012 Mar 7.


Objective: Patient reported outcome measures (PROMs) are being used to inform national quality indicators for health care providers in England. Our objective was to explore patients' views of different formats and content of these data displays.

Methods: Six focus groups (N = 45) considered different formats (tables, bar charts, caterpillar and funnel plots) and content (uncertainty displays, volume of outcomes, color, icons, and ordering). A thematic analysis was carried out based on transcripts.

Results: Tables housing icons (star ratings) were the preferred display, having the most popular resonance and facilitating cognitive processing, appealing to most as the best format. Inferred meanings were overwhelmingly applied to unfamiliar formats (funnel plot) and content (uncertainty). Traffic light highlighting and using consistent and recognizable icons (five stars) helped understanding. Familiarity with the bar chart seemed to lend to false readings--error bars were not interpreted.

Conclusion: Aspects of familiarity, meaningfulness (whether and how displays resonated with participants), and cognitive or choice processes informed views of displays.

Practice implications: Tables with star ratings should be a primary display, ordered on statistical significance, including providers in the region plus England average. Caterpillar plots should be used to provide contextual information. More detailed numeric tables should also be accessible.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Comprehension
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Decision Making*
  • England
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Preference*
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care* / statistics & numerical data