Navigating the Data-Rich Landscape of Healthcare: The Utility of Data Exploration and Visualization

October 13, 2023

Contributed Commentary by LisaMarie Turk and David Menzies, ICON 

October 13, 2023 | In the ever-expanding universe of real world data, exploration and visualization strategies have become indispensable. This article presents 5 takeaways relevant to these strategies. As the amount and type of real-world patient level data increases dramatically, effective exploration and visualization requires a robust and flexible data tokenization, integration strategy and technology framework. Through state-of-the-art technology infrastructure, it is possible to develop a system capable of generating longitudinally-linked, high-quality real world patient datasets. As part of this process, it is extremely important to remain committed to upholding ethical and legislative requirements pertaining to patient privacy.  

The initial key takeaway is the importance of a robust and comprehensive data tokenization and integration strategy. At the center of every successful data integration strategy is a multi-token crosswalk and a 300+M patient master. Without these, it is impossible to create a deep and wide, high quality, longitudinally-linked patient and consumer dataset with the required attribute diversity. This, in combination with an adaptable and advanced technology framework, enables the transformation of complex data into meaningful, actionable insights. These efforts have impactful application in the clinical development spectrum from early phase to commercialization. 

The second takeaway highlights the crucial role of data exploration. By examining extensive datasets to identify patterns, anomalies, and relationships, data exploration is key to unlocking valuable insights. These insights, when distilled, are illustrated through data visualization techniques. This not only provides a clearer view for stakeholders but also offers guidance for outreach, influences policy formation, and ensures optimized resource distribution, ultimately enhancing operational efficiency and strategic direction. 

The third key takeaway highlights the transformative power of data visualization. Data visualization decodes intricate data into accessible, easily understandable formats, fostering effective communication among a myriad of stakeholders. This can be exemplified by user-interactive provider or patient activity density heat maps. These tools serve not only as mediums of visual communication but also as strategic platforms delivering immediate, clear visualization of crucial data points. Analyzing claims data at the national or regional levels provides valuable perspectives that guide healthcare facilities, providers, and geographical area selection where patient populations are concentrated. By integrating insights from key opinion leaders, understanding of sponsor relationships, and real-world evidence, potential locations for site consideration or areas with a high concentration of providers can be identified. By making complex data accessible, the sharing of information is facilitated, promoting collaboration and innovation. 

Advanced data exploration and visualization techniques facilitate the elucidation of patient profile distinctions. By systematically comparing patient populations diagnosed and treated for a specific condition, discernible demographic trends become evident. These trends, portrayed through the visualization of parameters such as provider specialty, service location, payer categories, and age group distributions, are instrumental. Such insights are paramount in the development of patient-centric strategies and augment evidence-based clinical decision-making. 

In clinical trials, intricate protocols often necessitate the use of advanced data exploration and visualization. This was exemplified in a study by ICON involving patients on long-term anticoagulation. By leveraging these tools, the study provided an in-depth assessment of nuanced, complex criteria across varied patient cohorts, including those treated with a vitamin K antagonist (VKA) without reversal, those without non-VKA treatments, and those without a coagulation defect diagnosis. The results revealed key potential barriers to study eligibility. Proactively addressing these issues can refine study design and recruitment strategies. In addition to enhancing precision, this approach empowers optimization of operations, delivering business advantages and clinical efficiencies. 

The fourth takeaway underscores the importance of continuous improvement and innovation in data management, data integration, exploration, and visualization. The importance of continuous improvement and innovation cannot be understated. Effective decision-making is often fueled by comprehensive real-world data assets, such as a nationally representative US patient longitudinally-linked dataset provided by Symphony Health. By integrating diverse datasets, ranging from lab results, multi-omic diagnostics, electronic health records, to patient registries, the depth and reliability of insights can be enhanced. In the healthcare landscape, harnessing such data effectively can streamline clinical processes and elevate patient care. 

Finally, the fifth key takeaway highlights the need for stringent standards of patient privacy protection. A fundamental aspect of utilizing real-world data is the commitment to patient privacy. Balancing the advantages of data exploration and visualization with the essentiality of ethical and privacy considerations is vital. It is imperative to prioritize and uphold patient confidentiality even as the insights from real-world data are harnessed. 

In conclusion, effective data management and decision-making hinge on the nuanced integration, exploration, and visualization of data. The evolving landscape of data-driven healthcare necessitates a strong commitment to innovation while ensuring a keen balance between accessing insights and upholding privacy. By centering on the utility of real-world data, the goal is to advance patient-focused, data-driven solutions, including life altering therapies, for a broader, positive global impact. 


At ICON plc, a premier global CRO, LisaMarie Turk serves as a Data Scientist in the Medical Innovation-Medical Informatics division. Drawing from over 20 years of diverse experience in healthcare, Dr. Turk harnesses data science techniques, analytics, and data visualization to deliver clinical consultation and business intelligence solutions. Beyond ICON, Dr. Turk provides strategic direction as an Advisor for the American Nurses Association's Innovation Committee on Data Science, Augmented Intelligence, and AI. With a unique blend of healthcare expertise and technical acumen, Dr. Turk develops actionable insights that span sectors including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, governmental, and other life sciences entities. She can be reached at  

David Menzies, Executive Director of Technology Solutions at ICON, has 30+ years of experience in the sales, design and delivery of services and technology solutions to commercial life science organizations. He is well versed in life science commercial business processes, practices, data sources and regulatory requirements such as PDMA and PDRP. He has expertise in technology solutions for Data Integration and Tokenization, Business Intelligence, Data Warehousing, Customer Master (MDM), Incentive Compensation, Territory Realignments and AI powered Customer Targeting. Prior to joining ICON, was a founding partner of ASI, where he was responsible for defining and managing its business solutions, services and technologies. Prior to joining ASI, held senior technology positions in Europe and Australia with a global CRM provider. He can be reached at