6.1 Continuous data

Continuous data is everywhere in healthcare. From physiological measures in patients such as systolic blood pressure or pulmonary function tests, through to population measures like life expectancy or disease incidence, the analysis of continuous outcome measures is common and important.

Our goal in most health data questions, is to draw a conclusion on a comparison between groups. For instance, understanding differences in life expectancy between the year 2002 and 2007 is more useful than simply describing the average life expectancy across all of time.

The basis for comparisons between continuous measures is the distribution of the data. That word, as many which have a statistical flavour, brings on the sweats in a lot of people. It needn’t. By distribution, we are simply referring to the shape of the data.