Priority 1: Improve the efficiency, timeliness and quality of data capture and access

Advancing this priority will make it easier to capture data in current data systems and to access the data that has already been collected. The cancer data strategy recommends the following actions:

  • increase the efficiency and ease of data access;
  • improve the timeliness of data capture and availability;
  • build on guidelines and standards for cancer data, including data quality indicators.

How this priority is being advanced in Canada

The following are examples of initiatives being implemented to advance this priority and improve health outcomes for people across the country.

Consider how you can apply these learnings in your own organization or jurisdiction to help enhance the cancer data system.

An initiative in British Columbia is working to close the gap between when a patient is diagnosed with cancer and when that diagnosis is recorded in the BC Cancer Registry (BCCR).

The BCCR is the only population-based source for cancer data in BC, but its data are behind real time by around 18 months, similar to other cancer registries in Canada and the United States. To reduce that lag, the BCCR has developed and implemented a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence (AI) system that uses natural language processing (similar to the technology used in tools like ChatGPT) to pull relevant information from pathology reports and automatically enter it into the registry significantly faster and more accurately than the previous system. By shortening the time between diagnosis and recording, the province will get a timelier understanding of new cancer diagnoses, major cancer trends, and the effectiveness of cancer programs and treatments. This information will enable better system planning and support better patient outcomes.

Cancer Care Alberta (CCA) has established an embedded Precision Analytics team that will develop and implement new data-driven tools to enhance workforce planning and resource allocation with the goal of helping address issues pertaining to wait times and access. This team will help inform innovative approaches to service delivery challenges associated with ongoing increases in the number of people living with cancer.

The new team will apply machine learning and other advanced analytics techniques to collect real-time population-level data from the provincial electronic medical records system, Connect Care and the new Data Environment for Cancer Inquiries and Decisions (DECIDe) platform. Access to this data will help optimize informed decision-making to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of cancer care services in Alberta.

CancerCare Manitoba is taking steps to modernize its cancer registry to keep pace with evolving technological and data management standards. The registry was first created in 1930 and most recently updated in 2012.

Planning is underway to modernize the registry by using natural language processing to enhance case identification and stage data entry. It will also empower oncology data specialists to conduct more in-depth auditing and registration of complex cases. This will help streamline the cancer registry and enable it to capture more comprehensive data. It will also make case registration and data management much faster and more accurate, ensuring Manitoba’s cancer registry remains a cutting-edge tool for cancer care, research and decision-making.

In 2021, Ontario Health (Cancer Care Ontario) launched a project to improve patient care and health system planning by creating a repository of information on keratinocyte carcinomas, a type of skin cancer. The project used natural language processing and machine learning to identify cases of keratinocyte carcinomas in unstructured narrative pathology reports in Ontario between 2012 and 2021. While melanoma and some non-melanoma skin cancers are routinely registered in Ontario, keratinocyte carcinomas were not previously captured in Ontario’s cancer registry. Therefore, this new population-level repository will help fill a key data gap while also facilitating other data linkages.

The project’s automated approach provides a sustainable method for curating data that may be applied to other diseases and other types of narrative health reports (e.g., imaging). This will enable data-informed decision-making and help guide the identification and prioritization of future initiatives in health system planning, improvement and performance management.

A new and improved integrated clinical information solution will give the New Brunswick Cancer Network (NBCN) faster access to standardized breast screening data. The system will enhance the evaluation capabilities of the New Brunswick Breast Cancer Screening Program and enable NBCN to monitor near real-time screening service data and standardize the way breast cancer screening data elements are collected, updated, and reported across the province. The new system will also help improve the screening program’s awareness and recruitment strategies by leveraging processes already used by the province’s integrated cervical and colon cancer screening programs. Once the new breast cancer screening solution is provincially implemented, the NBCN will be able to support future enhancements for the breast screening program, leading to better outcomes for people in New Brunswick.

The cancer care program of Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services is developing automated interactive dashboards to enhance transparency, accountability and overall cancer care quality in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The dashboards will focus on screening, diagnosis and treatment, offering systematic monitoring of and accurate reporting on critical aspects of cancer care, such as clinical standards and outcomes, service delivery and wait times. This will enable clinical management and leadership teams to make more informed decisions and better evaluate quality of care initiatives. The long-term vision is to create comprehensive surveillance dashboards for public reporting.

The Cancer Registry Process Mapping initiative is a Canada-wide project looking into how each province and territory collects, processes and consolidates cancer data in its respective registry, with a focus on pathology sources. It will also include a review of the cancer data process flow: from entry into the Canadian Cancer Registry all the way to the release of new knowledge products.

Specifically, this initiative will enable the Canadian Council of Cancer Registries to:

  • Share knowledge of data sources, systems, processes and tools across registries to guide pan-Canadian solutions on cancer registry practices and data standards
  • Identify information needs (including those related to data quality, timeliness and availability) for better decision-making, detection and analytics, and assess the capacity of existing systems in these areas to prioritize opportunities for improvement.

With better coordination and standardized data, the cancer journey and care received can be made more consistent, no matter where people are in the country.