Health Services Research

Cancer Research & Analytics

Bigger Data Reveals Better Care for Patients

Health services research explores how drugs and other treatments perform in large patient populations; essentially, how well the system serves the patients who depend upon it. Here, real-world evidence reveals how medications and other interventions work for people of all ages, with additional conditions beyond cancer, rather than in clinical trial study populations alone.

Alberta is one of the few provinces with a team established to closely examine the effectiveness of its cancer system. As the provincial director for Health Services Research within Cancer Research & Analytics, Dr. Winson Cheung and his colleagues study evidence gathered from electronic medical records and other huge health databases – cancer registries, pharmacy records, and patient reports on symptoms and quality of life – to learn how existing processes can be improved to better inform cancer care.

They are real-world outcomes: why a disease occurs, what unfolds beyond a diagnosis, and what may lead to its return.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that all those needing cancer care get it, in the most timely, compassionate, and appropriate manner possible.

Major projects include:

  • Facilitating data pooling between provinces to generate nation-wide, generalizable cancer statistics for easier access by researchers
  • Exploring differences between urban and rural cancer care in Alberta, to ensure that patients have timely access to testing and treatment regardless of where they live
  • Showing that pancreatic cancer patients were not being regularly referred to cancer centres for treatment, and conducting outreach to encourage referrals by family physicians
  • Examining how frequently patients with breast, lung, colon or prostate cancer receive computed tomography (CT) scans after cancer care to compare with national and international standards
  • Collaboration with artificial intelligence companies to pull key information from physician notes and images like CT scans, eliminating the resource-intensive and costly step of manually collecting and entering data from patient charts