Exploring LifeLines to Visualize Patient Records

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LifeLines provide a general visualization environment for personal histories. We explored its use for medical patient records. A one screen overview of the record using timelines provides direct access to the data. Problems, hospitalization and medications can be represented as horizontal lines, while icons represent discrete events such as physician consultations (and progress notes) or tests. Line color and thickness can illustrate relationships or significance. Techniques are described to display large records. Rescaling tools and filters allow users to focus on part of the information, revealing more details.

Computerized medical records pose tremendous problems to system developers. Infrastructure and privacy issues need to be resolved before physicians can even start using the records. Non-intrusive hardware is required for physicians to do their work (i.e. interview patients) away from their desk and cumbersome workstations. But all the efforts to solve those problems will only succeed if appropriate attention is also given to the user interface design [1][8]. Long lists to scroll, clumsy search, endless menus and lengthy dialogs will lead to user rejection. But techniques are being developed to summarize, filter and present large amount of information, leading us to believe that rapid access to needed data is possible with careful design.

While more attention is now put on developing standards for gathering medical records we found that very little effort had been made to design appropriate visualization and navigation techniques to present and explore personal history records. An intuitive approach to visualizing histories is to use graphical time series. The consistent, linear time scale allows comparisons and relations between the quantities displayed. Data can be graphed on the timeline to show time series of quantitative data. Highly interactive interfaces turn the display into a meaningfully structured menu with direct access to the data needed to review a problem or conduct the diagnosis. Also cross-referenced as CAR-TR-819