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Specialized EHR Systems Help Docs Collect, Share Valuable Insight

Oncology-specific EHR systems that collect comprehensive longitudinal treatment data can transform cancer care.

Oncology-specific EHR systems better equip providers with the tools to share real-world evidence.

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- Customizing or specializing EHR systems to meet the unique needs of providers in different specialties, care settings, and hospitals can prevent clinicians from spending a significant portion of their workday sifting through large amounts of clinical data for the specific data elements they need.

Health IT developers, researchers, and providers have suggested specializing EHR systems as a way to improve EHR usability and clinical efficiency.

In the case of oncology-specific EHR systems, usability and efficiency improvements are just the tip of the iceberg. According to CancerLinQ CEO Cory Wiegert, specializing EHR systems to support cancer treatment may also help to boost patient health outcomes, accelerate the use and development of new drugs, and spread real-world evidence throughout the provider community for better-informed cancer care.

Oncology-specific EHR systems primarily differ from standard EHR offerings in the types of data they collect. Rather than offering unique functionality or design options, oncology-specific EHR systems offer providers a more streamlined way to collect, store, and share large aggregate data sets.

“It’s really about getting these larger data sets and removing the friction to build these data sets,” Wiegert told EHRIntelligence.com.

READ MORE: 11 Ways Medical Practices Can Get More Out of Their EHR Systems

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) launched the CancerLinQ initiative in 2013 as a way to give oncologists a quality monitoring system capable of collecting and analyzing data from all patient encounters. Oncologists can use this data for cancer research and cutting-edge treatments, setting the foundation for a learning health system.

This year, CancerLinQ, LLC — a non-profit subsidiary of ASCO that oversees the development and operation of the CancerLinQ health IT platform — launched the CancerLinQ Certified EHR program.

The certification program is designed to identify EHR systems that meet criteria for health data standardization and interoperability.

“It’s pretty straightforward — as CancerLinQ was getting founded and built we were looking for ways to help drive interconnectivity and data portability and movement of structured and unstructured content,” said Wiegert.

“When we say this EMR is part of the CancerLinQ certification program, it meets a certain number of criteria,” he continued. “Number one, they’re supporting the creation and maintenance of health records. And number two, they’re maintaining industry standards for the recording of standardized clinical sets. We’re working to seamlessly transform data and move data into this larger aggregate set.”

READ MORE: EHR System Costs Contributed to Bankruptcy at 3 MS Hospitals

CancerLinQ’s emphasis on health data collection, standardization, and exchange partly stems from the stark disparities in the quality of cancer treatment across different regions, health systems, and specialty centers.

“If you segment the market and take your big cancer treatment centers — such as Women and Children’s in Boston — they’ve got so many specialists for so many specific types of cancer, and they know all the research and everything that’s going on with the cutting edge of treatments,” he explained.

“But in rural and community hospitals or stand-alone practices, you may have just one oncologist,” he said. “One day someone might walk in with breast cancer, then the next day there could be a patient with liver cancer, and the next day lung cancer. This one oncologist may not have access to the same specialty treatments or specialty information as the big cancer treatment centers.”

Aggregating data across cancer treatment centers and sharing this information with all oncologists allows providers in different regions, hospitals, and health systems to learn from every patient’s care journey. 

“We’re helping patients who are not able to go to these big centers get the same level of care and the same standards of care in accordance with guidelines being developed at these cutting-edge cancer centers,” said Wiegert.

These aggregate data sets offer oncologists crucial real-world evidence to support the use of effective new treatments, as well as insight into the way patients with different diagnoses respond to drug therapies.

READ MORE: Patient, Physician Satisfaction with EHR Systems Remains Low

“You see the actual information and the actual progression in the longitudinal record,” said Wiegert. “It can give oncologists answers around questions like, is the treatment working? Are the first line treatments working, or are we always going to second line? What immunotherapies are actually working? Are there off-label treatments happening because of some commonality in a genetic record?”

“The functionality may not be different, it’s the data that’s captured and the way it’s captured and the content that’s gonna be different,” he added.

Oncology-specific EHR systems may collect data about disease staging, drug dosing, and volume of treatment that an EHR system designed for primary care providers may not include. Providers could also use these specialized systems to set up chemotherapy schedules.

“An oncologist EMR would have that right out of the gate,” said Wiegert.

In addition to promoting the development and use of oncology-specific EHR systems, the CancerLinQ certification program also includes several criteria related to interoperability.

 “What we’re trying to do is establish a standard where sharing data provides the differential value for the patient and for the doctor,” said Wiegert.

To become a certified CancerLinQ EHR system, vendors must actively participate in efforts centered on improving interoperability, establishing core data elements, and standardizing data exchange.

“We view innovation as everybody’s responsibility in this particular mission under higher quality care for oncology patients, so we would like to see the systems open up,” said Wiegert. 

Looking ahead, Wiegert hopes to see the oncology community leverage Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) to enhance interoperability and health data exchange nationwide.

“Today, the FHIR standard doesn’t have enough of the data types that we need,” maintained Wiegert. “But we’re hoping as we continue to extend and support interoperability, that FHIR becomes a standard that we focus on.”

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