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Better data… better decisions… better patient care

Who is diagnosed with cancer? How are old are people when they are diagnosed? What kind of cancers are they being diagnosed with? How early (what stage) is the cancer found? How is it found (a screening test, surgery, etc.)? What kind of treatments do people have? How well do they do following treatment? Does the cancer come back?

The answers to these questions and many others are critical for health administrators, providers and the public to understand. Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Surveillance and Epidemiology Unit (SEU) coordinates the collection and analysis of cancer information through its cancer information system. Its goal is to provide health administrators, providers and the public with information to make good decisions.

Data (information) can be used in many ways such as: helping to plan the kinds of cancer programs and services that are necessary in a province or district health authority or helping determine the success of screening programs and various treatments. Collecting and analyzing cancer information is at the very heart of a quality cancer system.

Cancer Care Nova Scotia recognized a need to improve its ability to provide high quality cancer data and recently introduced a new electronic cancer information system – OncoLog – to help achieve this goal. The system went live on September 17, 2012, the result of three years of careful planning and hard work by SEU staff and many partners including Department of Health and Wellness, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, district health authorities, and HITS Nova Scotia.

OncoLog replaces the Oncology Patient Information System (OPIS) previously used by the SEU. OPIS was over 20 years old and needed significant upgrades to expand its ability for data collection and linkages with other systems.

“Cancer has been a reportable disease since the 1960s and Nova Scotia has been collecting and analyzing cancer data since then to better understand this family of diseases,” said Maureen MacIntyre, Director of the Surveillance and Epidemiology Unit and one of five CCNS project team members leading the work to introduce OncoLog. “This new system gives us the flexibility that we need to improve how and what we are able to report on as the complexity of the information we’re being asked for continues to increase. As well, OncoLog will make it easier for us to comply with national reporting standards such as annual submissions to the national Canadian Cancer Registry housed at Statistics Canada.

“OncoLog has more flexibility when it comes to tracking outcomes data,” said Maureen. “Now that the new system is in place, next steps include introducing new processes to expand data collection in areas such as cancer treatment. This data helps answer questions about the effectiveness of a given treatment. It will also help us evaluate the effectiveness of clinical treatment standards as CCNS continues its work with district health authorities and the Department of Health and Wellness in this area.”

Another advantage of OncoLog is its ability to connect / interface with other information systems across the province. Until now, hospitals and pathology labs have been sending us paper reports outlining cancer diagnoses. The staff at SEU is currently working with hospitals across the province to establish a process where new reports can be generated electronically from existing hospital databases and sent direct to OncoLog, saving precious staff time and decreasing the chance for error in entry. Down the road, SEU staff hopes to work with pathology labs to create a similar interface.

“The ability of OncoLog to interface or connect with other systems is a huge advantage,” said Maureen. “At the moment, we are already 12 months behind in our data entry. As the number of cancer cases in Nova Scotia continues to increase, this backlog will only grow. We need to work with our partners to develop efficiencies in reporting data so we can concentrate our efforts on ensuring data quality, reducing the time lag in producing data and increasing the amount of analysis, improving the timeliness of reports.

September 17, 2012 represents a milestone for the Surveillance and Epidemiology Unit and its partners, but the work is far from complete. It will take another 12 - 18 months to stabilize the new system and carry out work to refine methods for data collection. CCNS will continue working with stakeholders to better understand their cancer information reporting needs to inform decision making for quality cancer treatment and care.


Steering committee membership included representatives from Cancer Care Nova Scotia, Department of Health and Wellness, HITS Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia Government’s Privacy Office.

Project committee members included: Maureen MacIntyre, Ron Dewar, Karen Starratt, and Joanne Hamm, all with the Surveillance and Epidemiology Unit, and Richard Herritt, CCNS’s Senior Project Manager, IT /IM.

Special thanks to funding partners: the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness.

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