Saturday, October 20, 2012

Infographics: Can they make reading journals easier?

As we struggle with information overload and clinical overload, it is harder to keep up with updates in medical literature.  Several journals are trying to make it easier to scan articles and get the salient points quickly e.g. Annals of Internal Medicine provides a commentary summarizing the practical implications of a study.
My assumption is that most readers scan the abstracts of articles before deciding which ones to read in full.  Appropriate use of graphics can improve comprehension and possibly make this scanning process more efficient.  As the old saying goes "A picture is worth a thousand words".  Clearly graphics are very popular as can be seen by the popularity of Infographics and Pinterest.
So I decided to try out a free infographic creation tool Piktochart to create a visual representation of the salient points of a study.

I chose this study from JAMA - because it was the first study that caught my eye in my Google Reader stream after I thought of this idea.  So this is what the abstract looks like:


As you can imagine it took me a few minutes to get the main message of the study.  What if I had seen this infographic instead?  I took all the information from the study abstract.  The only thing I added was the Number Needed to Treat (NNT) that I calculated myself.  
Infographic Created by Neil Mehta
So what do you think?  Does an Infographic make it easier to scan journal articles?  If so, should journals have data visualization experts on their editorial team to help create these?  Should there be standards for creating these e.g. Blue circles for control groups and yellow for intervention groups, etc?