Case Studies

3 Vital Questions Your Business Reports Must Answer

Do some of your business reports feel unintelligible? Then help make a change with these three vital questions.

I once heard a pastor say there are three key questions to ask when reading any story in scripture:image of Todd

•   What? – What happened in the story?

•   So What? – What is the moral of the story?

•   Now What? – How can I apply this story and its moral in my life?

I believe the same questions apply to any story, situation, or report we encounter – including a common report we all often receive.

A visit to the doctor or a hospital frequently leads to a blood test, so we roll up our sleeve, allow some blood to be drawn, see teh sample labeled to send to a lab for processing, and receive the results.

Receiving the results, however, often leads to confusion or frustration – even if the doctor explains the results and gives you a copy of the report. If you're like me, the technical terms on the lab report cause your eyes to glaze over – not because its message is unimportant, but because it is unintelligible.

Frequently, looking at a lab report feels like we're reading something in a foreign language. More importantly, the typical lab report fails to clearly answer the three key questions: What? So What? Now What?

What if your lab report could be presented and its contents explained in a way that DID clearly answer the three important questions? Why, it would become very popular with doctors and you, the patient!

This month's case study shows how we worked closely with our client to develop a lab report to help answer the three key questions:

•   What? – "What were my results, and are they normal?"

•   So What? – "Given the results, how will this affect my health?"

•   Now What? – "Okay, there is a problem – what do I need to do to get things back in line?"

So, the next time you're given an unintelligible lab report, be sure to ask, "Is there a different format of this report – one I can actually understand and apply?" If the answer is "yes," great – you may end up receiving a report we developed. If the answer is "no"? Ask your doctor to contact us – we'd be happy to connect them with our client.

Todd L. Herman

Todd L. Herman

Read more on the benefits of a business reporting project.


Win New Business With Understandable Lab Reports

Situation: Magazine Article Sparks Idea

Our client's Chief Information Officer (CIO) – let's call him "Mark" – read a Wired magazine article on how electronic medical records (EMR) could enable better presentation of technical information, benefitting both the doctor and the patient.  Mark's vision – make the patient the center of lab reporting, while also giving individual doctors their own reporting preferences.

Opportunity: CIO Identifies Innovation Opportunity

Mark "connected the dots" between the article and his company's key deliverable – a lab result document. He sensed an innovation opportunity – a way to distinguish his company from its competitors – and got other top executives on board.


image of a lab report

 BEFORE: First Page of Typical Report

•   Little formatting — only red text for values outside reference range

•   Reference sources placed in-line with test results, making the overall report “choppy to read

•   Primary Reader — Physician

•   Purpose — Presenting technical information


Solution: Reports That Truly Communicate 

We worked with Mark to design and develop a prototype, generating much excitement inside the company – in particular, sales representatives recognized this major point of differentiation compared to competitors' offerings.

image of a nice lab report

 AFTER: First Page of Revised Report

•   Uses color, formatting, symbols , and visualizations

•   Reference sources placed at end of report, making overall report “flow” better for the patient

•   Primary Readers — Patient and Physician

•   Purpose — Communicating results and overall assessment, and presenting technical information


The project was quickly upgraded from "proof of concept" to a formal project, with the following key goals:

•   Communicate clearly and in non-technical language, yet still presenting lab results with all the required reference ranges – which reflected age, gender, and other factors – and legally-required caveats.

•   Present the results accurately and visually, without attempting to interpret the results or to make a diagnosis – these are the doctor's responsibilities.

•   Enable easy, yet secure, access to the new reports.  When possible, a PDF is stored directly in the doctor's lab order entry system – in other cases, the doctor received a link to download the report from a secure web portal.

To help meet these goals, our client engaged a cardiologist as the project's subject matter expert (SME).  We worked closely with him to achieve his ideal report.

Realizing other doctors might want their own customizations, we designed and developed the application to allow quick and easy report creation and customization, even down to a specific doctor's preferred font and point size.

Results & Benefits: Three Innovative Report Types

All the project goals laid out were met – and then some.  While one deliverable had been expected, three were actually produced.

The first deliverable was the report for the cardiologist, reporting lab results for several tests commonly ordered by cardiologists and thus was a frequent, but unique report.  Reporting and presenting results was completely redesigned, as shown in the "Before" and "After" illustrations.

image of risk profile

 AFTER: Lipids and Lipoproteins

•   Excerpt from cardiologist’s report

•   Uses both colors (red) and symbols (red flag) to highlight problem areas.

The second deliverable, a general lab results report, was a by-product of the more complex first deliverable. Drawing on the library of visualizations we created for the first report, this report provided a cleaner and more visual presentation of basic results.

image of a gauge

 AFTER: Overall Cardiovascular Disease Risk Level

•   Excerpt from cardiologist’s report

•   Uses “gauge” to present overall risk assessment.

•   Patients now immediately understand their overall results — the familiar temperature gauge needs no explanation


 The third deliverable, customized reporting, was a system accommodating an individual doctor's preferences – for example, when a doctor with low vision requested a larger font size for his report, this was quickly developed and deployed.

image of a lipid report

 AFTER: Lipid Profile

•   Excerpt from a Lipid Profile report

•   Uses slider bars to visually present the scale of normal, borderline, and risky values

•   Uses a red diamond to show patient’s results

•   “More Optimal” and “Less Optimal” labels placed to indicate “Below” (lower is better) or “Above” (higher is better) interpretation


All these outcomes improved the satisfaction of existing customers, and allowed our client to obtain many new customers specifically because of this project's success.

Winning New Business With Report Clarity

Mark's vision was to win new business by being the first lab in its market to offer patient-centered and doctor-specified results. Sales representatives capitalized on this new capability, and Mark's vision is now a reality.

Would you like to enjoy benefits like our client did? If so, contact me now about your business reporting ideas and questions.

Call Todd: 336.297.4200

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Interested in reading past case studies? Visit the Case Study Archive.

Todd Herman Associates


620 Green Valley Road
Suite 104
Greensboro, NC 27408

About Todd Herman Associates

Todd Herman Associates is a business technology consulting firm focused on non-routine technology issues such as replacing QuickBooks, getting two systems to "talk" to each other, shrinking process cycle time, and taming large volumes of data.