Data Viz Done Right

April 16, 2017

Makeover Monday: Lamotrigine vs. Lamictal - How much does the NHS save by prescribing the generic drug?

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Eva was up to her tricks again this week, providing us with a ridiculously large dataset to play with of prescriptions in the UK.
I've used this dataset before, so I was already pretty comfortable with the data. The viz that she asked us to makeover in underwhelming given the detail of the data behind it.


What works well?
  • Line charts are always very easy to understand
  • Laying the charts out side-by-side allows me to see that while prescriptions have been rising, costs haven't been rising at the same rate.
  • Axes are clearly marked and not too crowded
  • Title tells me what the viz is about, though it's pretty boring
  • Chart titles describe what I'm seeing
  • Using green for the lines, which is the color for pharmacists in the UK

What could be improved?
  • There's no story. Are the trends good or bad?
  • There could be more comparisons and context. Something like cost per prescription makes it easier to understand if costs are going up or down overall.
  • More detailed data, like at the quarterly or monthly level, might show more interesting patterns like if the prescriptions are seasonal.
  • Do these trends apply to all regions in the UK? Does it apply to all medicines?
  • Use a more impactful title.
  • When I look at medical data, I always wonder what it means for me. This viz can't answer that.

For my viz, I wanted to look at two specific drugs. Well really it's the same drug, just in generic and brand name versions. Pharma companies spend a ton of money pushing their new medications, yet the NHS has a responsibility to keep costs down. To help me understand this better, I reviewed Lamictal (brand) vs. Lamotrigine (generic). I chose these because I've taken both of them and know how stupidly expensive the brand can be. If you're curious to know why I took these, I explain at the bottom of the viz.

Special thanks to Johannes Meier for creating this dataset and to EXASOL for hosting it.

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