The following blog post is by Dan Struebel, Director of Strategic Accounts at The Hive Group. The Hive Group specializes in data discovery and visual analytics. The company builds custom treemap applications for organizations across many industries: manufacturers, financial services organizations, logistics companies, and oil and gas companies, to name a few.
Dan works to strategically align Hive’s visual environments with the business processes of the enterprise. His work spans both private and public sector organizations. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Clarkson University.
The opinions expressed by Dan are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Lilly COI team.
One of the current challenges in communicating about clinical trials is the difficulty in expressing the data available about clinical studies in a way that's readable and easily accessible to patients. My team at The Hive Group wondered what would happen if we introduced our Honeycomb® treemap software to some of Lilly’s work around their open API. So, we decided to work with the Lilly COI team to develop a custom treemap interface which organizes and presents data from ClinicalTrials.gov.
Wikipedia offers a good starting point for learning about the value of treemaps. Treemaps enable you to...
...easily see patterns that would be difficult to spot in other ways, such as if a certain color is particularly relevant. A second advantage of treemaps is that, by construction, they make efficient use of space. As a result, they can legibly display thousands of items on the screen simultaneously.
In other words, they are an efficient and insightful way to present, monitor, analyze, and act on very large sets of data. They raise anomalies instantly to the surface, allow immediate access to underlying details, and allow the user to perform analyses that would be difficult with data presented in more traditional formats.
Through custom controls and filters, treemap users can not only find answers to their questions, but also discover new questions that they didn’t even know they had. This iterative discovery process is one of the most valuable benefits of using treemap interfaces.
Curt Hostetter, a Senior Software Developer for The Hive Group, led the effort to create a Honeycomb treemap that utilizes the LCOI API to access any of the 150,000+ clinical studies collected at the ClinicalTrials.gov. When asked about his thoughts on developing this type of application for clinical trials Curt said,
"The clinical trials database is massive. By utilizing Lilly’s API, we can place the lowest level results into a Honeycomb treemap view. The treemap gives the user an easy, efficient way to find the trial information they need."
For our sample treemap, we narrowed down the field by choosing to present only trials related to Omega-3 Fatty Acids. The sample allows users to easily pinpoint the trials that are most relevant to them, without losing sight of the entire universe of trials involving Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
In initial view, users can see all 500+ trials organized by their current enrollment status—trials with the highest enrollment are the largest and jump to the forefront. Each cell represents a trial, and its color reveals the expected duration. Using filters, users can instantly show only the trials applicable for their situation. For example, if you want to show only the trials that are currently open and funded by NIH, you can select the appropriate filtering options from the drop-down menus next to the treemap. When you find a trial that interests you, you can click on its cell to view all of the details from ClinicalTrials.gov.
Though we've focused on Omega-3 Fatty Acids for this example, the application can be adjusted to focus on any specific sub-set of trials: diseases, locations, intervention types, etc. If you are interested in exploring additional treemap visualizations contact The Hive Group. We’d be happy to discuss your ideas and outline how to get started.
As powerful as treemap visualizations are, they are critically dependent on the availability of the underlying data. The Hive Group has built this application on the substantial work of the Lilly COI team, to demonstrate what’s possible when a user- friendly API is combined with a powerful visual representation and analysis; the two things bring life and meaning to the data.
We'd love to know what you think about the use of treemaps to present clinical trial information, and hear your ideas for visualizing data. Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.