Scholarship Shortlist Alberta - Harshbir Kang

Data Design: A Powerful Option for Public Health Education and Engagement: 2019 Scholarship Finalist (AB)

Harshbir Kang

University of Alberta – Master of Science in Physical Therapy – 2021

Preventative healthcare requires constant public stimulation and engagement, making it essential for healthcare providers to maintain active public engagement both individually and at the level of professional associations and colleges. From questionable health products to anti-vaccination sentiments, public misinformation dominates the web and continues to grow. Professional bodies need to capitalize on the vast digital resources available and join these conversations with evidence-based content that counteracts misleading information and builds trust with members of the public.

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Figure 1: (Credit: David McCandless & Andy Perkins)

While the body of scientific knowledge available to providers constantly expands, it doesn’t exist in a format accessible to the general public, an audience not trained in the nuances of statistics and scientific writing. The solution lies in ensuring key messages are spread to the general public in accessible and engaging formats. Two strategies can accomplish this. First, we as health professionals need to engage with and reach out to influencers and work with them to create evidence-based, socially responsible content.1 Second, professional colleges and accrediting bodies need to incentivize healthcare providers to increase their technical literacy, functionally establishing groups of influencers who practice in accredited healthcare disciplines themselves and produce evidence-based informative content.

The latter strategy is one I aim to implement in my future practice, as it compliments my background working as a journalist, copywriter and social media consultant before beginning my studies in physiotherapy. Many social media platforms can help accomplish this, including YouTube, blogging and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, I would like to focus on a less-known option for public digital engagement: data design. The best example of this initiative comes from Information is Beautiful, founded by David McCandless, one of the initial innovators in data design and journalism.2 Not only are they a valuable potential partner, but the group has delved in health-related content before. The infographic on the left, created by David McCandless and Andy Perkins, illustrates this approach applied to popular nutrition supplements.3

Data design can also be useful in more interactive applications. How does this work? Being a Physiotherapy student, I’ll use a physiotherapy-related example. Picture an interactive dashboard, where commonly used modalities are visualized by some metric representing the level of evidence behind them. This dashboard would enable users to select different modalities they are curious about and this would generate a visualization such as inflated balloon/pictogram models allowing for a visual comparison. The dashboard could also be configured to allow for a user to select from a list of common conditions/clinical presentations that Physiotherapists see and see visualizations demonstrating how effective or relevant each modality is and the level of evidence supporting its use for their condition. This initiative would aim to promote better patient choices about the modalities they consent to and promote evidence-based practice among physiotherapists, preventing harm from questionable modalities and encouraging clinicians to move away from questionable modalities in their practice. The dashboard could be configured onto a webpage, making it freely accessible and with adequate social media promotion, it would be known to a wide audience. This interactive approach also allows creators to engage with gamification strategies, which have demonstrated potential for modifying positive health behaviors.4

Aside from my physiotherapy training, I am currently learning python and familiarizing myself with tableau, the software most commonly used in data design and visualization. I hope to employ these skills and serve as a passionate voice for evidence-based health information online. Additionally, I hope to use this approach to build valuable ties between health organizations and stakeholders in the tech sector to open further avenues for innovation in public health outreach and education.

References

  1. Collier, R., Containing health myths in the age of viral misinformation. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 2018. 190(19): p. E578-E578.
  2. Information is Beautiful. Available from: https://informationisbeautiful.net/.McCandless, D. and A. Perkins.
  3. SnakeOil? Scientific evidence for health supplements. 2010; Available from: https://informationisbeautiful.net/2010/snakeoil-scientific-evidence-for-health-supplements/.
  4. Lin, R.J. and X. Zhu, Leveraging social media for preventive care-A gamification system and insights. Stud Health Technol Inform, 2012. 180: p. 838-42.