Visualizing Uncertainty to Promote Clinicians' Understanding of Measurement Error

Assessment. 2023 Feb 1;10731911221147042. doi: 10.1177/10731911221147042. Online ahead of print.


Measurement error is an inherent part of any test score. This uncertainty is generally communicated in ways that can be difficult to understand for clinical practitioners. In this empirical study, we evaluate the impact of several communication formats on the interpretation of measurement accuracy and its influence on the decision-making process in clinical practice. We provided 230 clinical practitioners with score reports in five formats: textual, error bar, violin plot, diamond plot, and quantile dot plot. We found that quantile dot plots significantly increased accuracy in the assessment of measurement uncertainty compared with other formats. However, a direct relation between visualization format and decision quality could not be found. Although traditional confidence intervals and error bars were favored by many participants due to their familiarity, responses revealed several misconceptions that make the suitability of these formats for communicating uncertainty questionable. Our results indicate that new visualization formats can successfully reduce errors in interpretation.

Keywords: communication; measurement error; test score reports; uncertainty; visualization.