Laurie Hawkins has worked with Arthritis & Osteoporosis Victoria (AOV) to develop this marvellous public health map service to help address the increasing impact of arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions in communities across the Australian state of Victoria.
At the start of the year, Laurie approached Ordnance Survey and asked if Charley (Glynn) and I could review his new web map service for arthritis sufferers, carers and researchers. The map serves as a wonderfully easy-to-use tool to locate available services in one’s local area. It also serves a secondary purpose in highlighting the regions that perhaps do not have as many facilities and services as others.
The map forms part of a wider project, creating a Human Services Directory (HSD) and itself consists of two directories: The community-driven ‘Victorian Musculoskeletal Community Directory’ and the Health Planning Services focused ‘Active Living and Primary Prevention Directory’.
Charley and I were both very impressed as soon as we started using the map service. First of all, the idea is outstanding… there must be millions of people in the UK who wished we had such a simple and helpful tool.
Web maps with a large number of datasets are extraordinarily difficult to get right but the vendor of the Arthritis map has managed to strike a really good balance between level of information and user experience. At first glance it is coloured dots over Google Maps, but the more you use it the more impressive the experience becomes.
The interface is simple but with this level of detail that is nothing but a good thing. It is very clear and easy to follow. There is a lot of help and information along the way and the ‘visual assist’ options offer greater accessibility.
Many maps are created with a Google base because it’s relatively quick and easy. In many such instances Google Maps is not an ideally-suited base map, however in this case it actually works really well, offering enough geographic context whilst allowing the overlay information to clearly stand out. The use of rainbow coloured dots makes the categories easily identifiable on the ‘Arthritis Victoria Services’ layer for example, and this theme continues to work on other more complex layers such as Health Care Services or Activity and Health Lifestyle Services where the user is likely to only view one set of search results at a time.
The user experience around features and also statistics is very positive. The statistics overlays are wisely kept simple with three bands of sequential colour and the idea to use tooltips as you hover with the mouse creates a far smoother user experience than being forced to open and close the pop-ups. However if you choose to click to open pop-ups, you uncover far more detail; in fact an unbelievable amount of detail in some cases but presented in a very clear manner that does well not to overwhelm the user. The pop-up windows also include extensive metadata. To have all of the statistics presented inside of the pop-up complete with metadata is quite a wealth of information for an interactive map, yet this is achieved in a very clever way.
As briefly mentioned earlier, Visual Assist (located at the bottom of the browser window) is another example of a brilliantly simple idea adding improved access and usability to the service. Here you can modify text size, contrast, etc.
I also checked a few of the direction links and it all seemed to transfer into Google correctly and is another simple but useful addition to the service.
I did feedback to Laurie a few concerns around some line and polygon styles not working particularly well with one another but he has sought to resolve these. I only point it out because this is one of the harder decisions in styling web map services. Other than anticipated use, unless you force restrictions upon the user, you can never be sure what layers the user will choose to view simultaneously. Design-wise this presents quite a challenge.
Overall I love the map. In general, the whole interface maintains a professional appearance without being over-designed both in function and aesthetic. This allows the service to successfully deliver such a wealth of information within a map. It serves as a great example and I believe it is one of the most useful community maps I have come across.
This site is appropriate to be named as a directory. Arthritis Map – the Victorian Musculoskeletal Community Directory – on its own is a brilliant community service whereas this directory is more of a database where users can look up a wide range of health information but on the same intuitive platform as before.
It contains the community map with all of the same positive features and data richness such as location of healthcare services but it adds to that further social healthcare statistics and administrative regions. This version also allows the user to customise the overlay styling quickly and intuitively. The level of customisation is quite extensive too, especially for the statistical data where not only can colours of polygons or bar charts be changed but the actual type of bar chart can be selected and changed on-the-fly and the number of bands can be changed too. There is also the option to choose components of the Google Maps base.
This is like a professional version, allowing far greater customisation but also adopting far more data and appealing to a far greater, more diverse audience or scenarios. As well as its research value, it too acts as a service and allows doctors, nurses and carers to quickly look up services for their patients with immediate geographic reference. I assume in such cases, the metadata also serves as a good, quick indicator of reliability and trustworthiness.
As the introductory page of the service itself suggests, ‘The Arthritis Map represents a growing collaborative environment for individuals, the community, researchers, health service providers and policy makers to come together, to contribute, to share information and to work together to help find solutions to fight the devastating impact of arthritis.’
Read more about the project in the published article on FutureGov.
My thanks to Laurie for giving me permission to write this post. He will be presenting the service at the HIMSS Australia Conference 2014 in Sydney on 20th May.