Some of these points apply specifically to healthcare but others are valid in general.
I am working on revamping a Word report for the healthcare industry for patients. At the moment it is very detailed and wordy, but I can condense it a lot by stripping out unneeded commentary and turning 5-6 sentences into 1-2 line bullet points.
First of all you have to be sure this is a good idea. Do you have a practical problem you're trying to solve or you're doing this only because you can?
Diagnosis, findings and the other fields in a medical report have a pretty standard content with a somehow (de facto) standardized wording. Changing this for a dashboard approach might not be allowed. Consult your QA and PO before doing anything.
Who will read your reports may not need a less verbose wording.
Terse information occupies less space and it's faster to read but when you introduce interpretation (icons, colors, symbols and graphics) you leave room for errors. One verbose sentence is less likely to be misinterpreted because of reading speed, especially because the same information is probably repeated multiple times in different forms. For example "After meal, blood glucose level response improved: average from 250 mg/dL decresed to 180 mg/dL" may be rewritten to "Avg PP BGL 180 mg/dL (-)" but it's more likely to be misread.
Information must also be redundant, don't forget that medical report may be scanned, copied or printed with a low-quality printer. A symbol may be quickly become unintelligible.
Who is looking for a quick overview will directly go reading tabular data.
There is less cognitive load in a small standard sentence than in 5 opinionated icons.
I looked at the standard symbols and happy sad faces but these seem a bit basic and unprofessional...
In tabular data it's sometimes useful to highlight a trend but there are few symbols you can safely use.
- are universally known and have a clear meaning but they're often used to mark values above/below a threshold. Do not introduce confusion.
Anything else (smiling or sad faces) is not only unprofessional but it adds noise. Your car doesn't have lights to signal that everything is OK, for each engine part; it has light to indicate when a part needs attention. What brain note is not the icon itself (which needs to be interpreted, adding cognitive load) but a change. You can add a simple mark like a dagger † or an asterisk * to denote a measure outside normative values (for example) but reduce this noise to the minimum. If you have to highlight something then highlight only abnormal measures. Compare this table:
10🙂 22🙂 33🙂 22🙂 34🙂 99🙂 3🙂 39🙁 59🙂 30🙂 58🙂 33🙂 35🙁 60🙂 57🙂 38🙂 31🙂
Can you quickly point out which values are bad? Compare with this:
10 22 33 22 34 99 38 39† 59 30 58 33 35† 60 57 38 31
Or this (which also adds bold to further highlight those values):
10 22 33 22 34 99 38 39†; 59; 30 58 33 35† 60 57 38 31
When printing you have even more typographic options (for example to underline the value may be appropriate).
Also note that report may be read by patients, a sad face may scary them. Not to mention that values alone are not the diagnosis.
However, I would like to introduce icons at the start of each point to indicate good/bad/discussion/increased/decreased.
Do not make this information so prominent, when reader knows the symbology then it's just distraction. Put your legend in footnotes or - better - in page footer.
...different background colours but that didn't look or read right either.
It's not an aesthetic thing. Don't forget that:
- There are color blind people.
- Colors have different interpretations in different cultures.
- Paper may be copied and/or printed in B/W.
- You will make text harder to read.
- In healthcare the use of color is not free.
You may use color, cum grano salis, according to relevant regulations and only in conjunction with something else.