National Centre for Health Outcomes Development gets the message across with InstantAtlas

InstantAtlas allows large volumes of national and regional statistical health data to be published online and then explored, analysed and clearly understood through interactive flash graphical presentations. This is helping better direction of health resources for saving lives.

The National Centre for Health Outcomes Development (NCHOD) is a unique national resource in the UK concerned with all aspects of health outcomes assessment. It was created in April 1998 following the outsourcing of the Department of Health’s Central Health Outcomes Unit and is based jointly at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London and the Department of Public Health, University of Oxford.

Compendium Interactive Atlas

data visualization tools and public health statistics

Funded by the Information Centre for health and social care, NCHOD produces the online Clinical and Health Outcomes Knowledge Base, including the Compendium of Clinical and Health Indicators. This is an extensive resource used predominantly by local authorities and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to help them direct public health resources effectively in their regions, to save lives.

The Compendium collates data from a range of sources such as the Office for National Statistics, the Department of Health and the Information Centre for health and social care. Indicators are provided on a large range of topics including mortality, vital statistics, cancer incidence and survival, risk factors, hospital activity and outcomes, and socio-economic status. An increasing number of these indicators are now being made available within the Compendium Interactive Atlas and are also being combined with expenditure data, in the Programme Budget Atlas.

Voluminous data

Daniel Eayres is a senior analyst programmer at NCHOD and is responsible for publishing mortality and cancer indicators as well as compiling the atlases.

“We initially produce the Compendium of some 200 health indicator topics. Each is broken down into many variants such as by age and gender making perhaps 2000 or more distinct analyses, all of which can be examined by geographical area.”

In the past, NCHOD then produced and published static charts and maps for several hundred selected analyses via a semi-automated, but still somewhat time-consuming process built in-house.

“User feedback indicated that people wanted us to provide tools that they might use to easily select and visualise just the health indicators of interest to them. There was dissatisfaction amongst users in having to download spreadsheets, sift through them for relevant data and manipulate them themselves,” said Eayres.


Today, the Compendium uses GeoWise InstantAtlas, a tool for the online presentation of geographical data, to present Compendium indicators in a user-friendly graphical format. The tool combines maps, tables and charts in a way that allows the user to select, filter, sort and generally explore the data. As such, the Compendium now enables self-service online access to thousands of possible statistical profiles presented visually for clear understanding of otherwise complex data.

NCHOD had seen InstantAtlas in use by one of the UK’s public health observatories and recognised the potential of the tool. It also considered web-based Geographical Information System (GIS) packages, but found them expensive and requiring extensive expertise.

Detailed views

NCHOD feeds InstantAtlas with perhaps the largest volume of data of any UK user. Users can view public health and programme budget data.

  • Public health data atlases are presented by local authority, PCT and strategic health authority. Customised atlas templates were provided by GeoWise to enable the data to be presented in three different ways: nested rate plots (to compare areas against others with similar socio-economic characteristics), funnel plots (to compare areas against the upper and lower expectations given the national average) and a correlation plot or ‘double map’ (to view possible inter-relationships between two indicators).
  • Programme budgets atlases provide a breakdown of PCT expenditure by condition category, such as cancer, circulatory diseases, neonatal, accident and emergency care. Users can look at these figures and compare them with health risks and outcomes; say cancer expenditure, alongside cancer screening coverage or cancer mortality rates.


    Eayres is certain of the popularity of the Compendium and of the value of InstantAtlas for data presentation.

    “In a survey of users of the NCHOD web site, 64% of respondents said they had used our Compendium Interactive Atlas,” said Eayres. “By using InstantAtlas to make the statistics more accessible, and exploration and analysis easier, we are delivering a better service to our users, helping them more fully understand the data and make better, more informed decisions.”

    Healthy conclusion

    Director of NCHOD, Dr Azim Lakhani is in no doubt that the Compendium combined with InstantAtlas makes a difference to UK health and to saving lives.

    He said: "Aided by InstantAtlas, what we are now able to do on a much wider scale and much more clearly, is show people where there might be a problem. This allows them to target resources effectively.”

    For example, according to Lakhani, a local authority may have a health problem in a deprived population. It can now look at results for another area with a similar profile where health is better. From that, they may judge whether it's perhaps not just deprivation but some other factor which may be responsible for the health problem. They can use that information to investigate the problem further locally and improve health care.

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    Case Study Keywords - interactive flash atlas, public health informatics, atlas templates, GIS, public health data, cancer indicators, interactive flash atlas, health statistics, vital statistics

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