October 26, 2018: Making Measurements Meaningful (Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, PhD)


Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, PhD
Associate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education
University of Michigan
Associate Director of the UM Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine


Making Measurements Meaningful


Health data; Return of results; Health measurements; Health communication

Key Points

  • Patients receive a variety of health measurements when visiting with their physicians; however, they may find it difficult to determine what the measurements mean. Incorporating objective numbers with clear graphics can be helpful.
  • “Out of range” test results can sometimes be difficult to depict for patients reviewing their health records. The online tool Icon Array was developed by the presenter to aid in the process.
  • When thinking about how to communicate health data effectively to patients, remember to “design for the way people are, not the way we wish they were.” (source: Holly Witteman)

Discussion Themes

Action thresholds are actively used in environmental communication, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The challenge in incorporating a similar system in a clinical setting is that patients are buried in their situations, and clinical judgement can be objective. The problem this creates is that many patients are left to interpret numbers that they don’t understand.

Communicating research results in an impactful and clear way can help in understanding how to do the same thing in a clinical setting.

Professional consensus and practical implementation are two main challenges of adopting new ways of communicating health measurements.


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