Visualizing the quality of partially accruing data for use in decision making

Julia Eaton, Ian Painter, Donald Olson, William Lober


Secondary use of clinical health data for near real-time public health surveillance presents challenges surrounding its utility due to data quality issues. Data used for real-time surveillance must be timely, accurate and complete if it is to be useful; if incomplete data are used for surveillance, understanding the structure of the incompleteness is necessary. Such data are commonly aggregated due to privacy concerns. The Distribute project was a near real-time influenza-like-illness (ILI) surveillance system that relied on aggregated secondary clinical health data. The goal of this work is to disseminate the data quality tools developed to gain insight into the data quality problems associated with these data. These tools apply in general to any system where aggregate data are accrued over time and were created through the end-user-as-developer paradigm. Each tool was developed during the exploratory analysis to gain insight into structural aspects of data quality. Our key finding is that data quality of partially accruing data must be studied in the context of accrual lag—the difference between the time an event occurs and the time data for that event are received, i.e. the time at which data become available to the surveillance system. Our visualization methods therefore revolve around visualizing dimensions of data quality affected by accrual lag, in particular the tradeoff between timeliness and completion, and the effects of accrual lag on accuracy.  Accounting for accrual lag in partially accruing data is necessary to avoid misleading or biased conclusions about trends in indicator values and data quality. 

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Online Journal of Public Health Informatics * ISSN 1947-2579 *