“The root problem is that mortality is inevitable for everyone, everywhere. This graphic lumps together pneumonia deaths at age 1 with car accidents at age 20, and cancer deaths at 50 with heart disease deaths at 80. We typically don’t (and I would argue should’t) assign the same weight to a death in childhood or the prime of life with one that comes at the end of a long, satisfying life. The end result is that this graphic greatly overemphasizes the importance of non-communicable diseases in the 20th century — that’s the impression most laypeople will walk away with.” (via Brett Keller – global health & development » This beautiful graphic is not really that useful)
Katie McCurdy has a chronic lifelong illness. As typical with chronic illness, she found it hard to explain her history—one of the few times you have to explain your entire history—to doctors. She turned to visualization for help:
For the past 20 years I have had Myasthenia Gravis, an autoimmune disease that causes weakness. For the past 14 years I have been taking Prednisone, a corticosteriod, to suppress my immune system to help reduce my Myasthenia symptoms. Unfortunately prednisone causes a host of side effects. For the past 5 years I have been experiencing gastrointestinal problems (debilitating at times) and increased weakness. I have been to neurologists, a number of gastroenterologists, acupuncturists, and a few primary care doctors, and NONE of these folks were able to really explain what was happening to me or give me concrete advice for improving my condition.
As I was getting ready to see a new doctor, I realized that the best way to tell my story would be to create a medical “life story” timeline that reflected:
- The course of my autoimmune disease
- Severity of my gastrointestinal problems
- Key moments in time when I started and stopped certain medications or took antibiotics
- Any significant dietary changes
I sketched out the two timelines (autoimmune and gastrointestinal) separately, and then created them electronically using Adobe Illustrator. (I’m aninteraction designerby day, so fortunately I had the skills/know-how to create a somewhat legible artifact.) I used a peach color to represent gastrointestinal wellness/symptoms, and a blue color for Myasthenia Gravis.
I currently work in the field of medical quality of life—particularly applied to cancer patients. Hospitals and researchers can easily track this data—we do, for instance—and create plots like these for patients. But not only for research purposes, it would be neat to have researchers return plots like these to patients who participate in studies.
(via Drugs that cause most harm: Scoring drugs | The Economist — a reprise of the Nutt et al. graph that relates to this BBC Radio 4 item; oh, and I would like to see the number of users plotted on a third dimension, possibly bar height)