ASCO pilots electronic health record standards to improve cancer care

Cancer doctors in the US have launched a new scheme that aims to improve care by setting out electronic health record standards.

There are 15 million people with cancer in the US but many electronic health record systems use different terms to describe the same type of data, or collect data in different formats, making them incompatible.

As a result, getting the disparate computer systems across the US to share electronic health record data effectively is a major problem said Monica Bertagnolli, president of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) at the organisation’s annual conference in Chicago.

Monica Bertagnolli

According to ASCO this dramatically limits the ability of cancer researchers and doctors to learn from patient records, hinders care coordination, and adds to admin costs for all uses, but especially practices and patients.

Most patients assume that in these modern times it should be easy for doctors to communicate details about their disease and treatment.

But not so, according to Bertagnolli, as getting different systems to interact and read patients’ electronic records is proving to be a real challenge.

ASCO is trying to solve this problem with mCODE (Minimal Common Oncology Data Elements), a core set of data elements and recommended technical specs that it considers essential for capturing and reporting patient data, and should be captured in each patient’s electronic health record.

mCODE is a collaboration between ASCO, its wholly owned non-profit subsidiary CancerLinQ, and the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology Foundation.

The standards and specs have been published online at and are available free of charge.

Data elements are designed using standard medical terminology, so that a doctor’s query across different electronic records using mCODE should convey the same meaning and retrieve similar patient details.

Data elements are grouped into six mean areas – “patient” containing demographic and other characteristics, “disease” with specific details regarding the cancer, “genomics” with molecular characteristics, “labs/vitals” including lab tests and vital signs, “treatment” such as surgery, radiation, and drugs, plus “outcomes” information about cancer status and survival.

mCODE provides a common data language and an open source, non-proprietary data model to allow different electronic record systems to connect.

It is being piloted at cancer centres across the US including Partner’s Healthcare in Boston and Intermountain Healthcare, headquartered in Salt Lake City.

Bertagnolli added, in a question and answer session, that it was her “dream” to make the system available worldwide to improve communication between oncologists on a global scale.



Don't miss your daily pharmaphorum news.
SUBSCRIBE free here.