Background: The assessment and treatment of complex disorders is challenged by the multiple domains and instruments used to evaluate clinical outcome. With the large number of assessment tools typically used in complex disorders comes the challenge of obtaining an integrative view of disease status to further evaluate treatment outcome both at the individual level and at the group level. Radar plots appear as an attractive visual tool to display multivariate data on a two-dimensional graphical illustration. Here, we describe the use of radar plots for the visualization of disease characteristics applied in the context of tinnitus, a complex and heterogeneous condition, the treatment of which has shown mixed success.
Methods: Data from two different cohorts, the Swedish Tinnitus Outreach Project (STOP) and the Tinnitus Research Initiative (TRI) database, were used. STOP is a population-based cohort where cross-sectional data from 1,223 non-tinnitus and 933 tinnitus subjects were analyzed. By contrast, the TRI contained data from 571 patients who underwent various treatments and whose Clinical Global Impression (CGI) score was accessible to infer treatment outcome. In the latter, 34,560 permutations were tested to evaluate whether a particular ordering of the instruments could reflect better the treatment outcome measured with the CGI.
Results: Radar plots confirmed that tinnitus subtypes such as occasional and chronic tinnitus from the STOP cohort could be strikingly different, and helped appreciate a gender bias in tinnitus severity. Radar plots with greater surface areas were consistent with greater burden, and enabled a rapid appreciation of the global distress associated with tinnitus in patients categorized according to tinnitus severity. Permutations in the arrangement of instruments allowed to identify a configuration with minimal variance and maximized surface difference between CGI groups from the TRI database, thus affording a means of optimally evaluating the outcomes in individual patients.
Conclusion: We anticipate such a tool to become a starting point for more sophisticated measures in clinical outcomes, applicable not only in the context of tinnitus but also in other complex diseases where the integration of multiple variables is needed for a comprehensive evaluation of treatment response.
Keywords: diagnostic tests; disease progression; gender differences; patient management; subtyping; treatment outcome; treatment response; value-based decision-making.