Texas Medical Center's COVID-19 dashboards prove challenging to read and design

Houston-based Texas Medical Center has had challenges communicating data on its COVID-19 dashboard, and in some instances people are using the information to draw inaccurate conclusions.

Without the proper context, the public in some cases has misinterpreted the information, Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom, MD, told the Houston Chronicle.

"What we're all seeing is people on either extreme trying to sue data to prove their more extreme views, whether it's somebody looking at that and saying 'There's no problem, look at all these beds,' or frankly people looking at, 'Oh my gosh, we've gotten through phase 1, the sky is falling.' Both of these are wrong," he said.

If the health system reaches phase 3, it will have to resort to placing several beds in a room or adding beds in spaces that weren't designed to be hospital rooms. The projections for reaching phase 3 are a moving target, always about two weeks away, with the number of patients without COVID-19 in ICUs dropping since early July. The seven-day average growth of COVID-19 cases in the ICU also has slowed.

The health system reported on June 25 that its ICU was at 100 percent occupancy and on pace to exceed "unsustainable surge capacity" by July 6. The health system then didn't report ICU capacity data for three days. And when the information reappeared on the COVID-19 dashboard, the slides presented information differently, although Dr. Boom said the numbers were the same.

On July 8, the health system updated its charts again to remove the phrase "unsustainable surge capacity," as COVID-19 patients treated at the health system hit that level, and replaced it with the phrase "phase 2 intensive care capacity." The charts then explained that phase 2 meant the health system would increase ICU staffing levels and ratios and prepare more intensive care equipment.

The Houston Chronicle detailed the changes in Texas Medical Center's COVID-19 dashboard in the last few months, and in a recent article journalist Mike Moore described the ICU occupancy chart as a "graphic designer's nightmare." The health system has tried to reflect how much capacity its hospitals can add before they completely run out of space and the percentage of ICU beds that have COVID-19 patients.

Mr. Moore wrote that data transparency is important to understanding how the virus is affecting the community.

More articles on data analytics:
States are reporting inconsistent, incomplete COVID-19 data, analysis finds
Some Wisconsin counties behind on reporting COVID-19 positivity rate: 4 details
University of Florida develops COVID-19 hospitalization predictive model

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