Tracking Data Over Time

in Health Care, Measurement, Videos

By David M. Williams, PhD

Harvardx course Practical Improvement Science in Health Care with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

So we talked about data and collecting data, but how do we now convert data into something that we can visually see and enables us to build knowledge and learn. One of the simplest tools is to be able to track data over time. And we can start doing that even with our first data point for one of our measures and add a data point onto a line chart. And over time as we collect new bits of data we can add each one of those data points to the line chart.

As we start to have more data, we have the advantage of being able to see the behavior of the process that we’re trying to measure. Once we get up to 12 data points we actually can add a median and the median enables us to be able to just apply four simple rules that help us to differentiate when things are actually part of the common variation within the system, and when there’s something special or something attributable and there’s a signal of change that we want to explore.

A run chart is pretty basic. We could make it in any spreadsheet program, or we actually just do it on a piece of paper, which sometimes is the best way to learn and to really be connected with your data.

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