Open-source software suite aims to improve breast health management

An open-source software suite to be rolled out across Nova Scotia early next year could improve breast health management worldwide, its creators say in a UICC research summary.

The Breast Imaging Electronic Medical Record (BIEMR) comes from 20 years of work to fill voids in proprietary software offerings, according to Mohamed Abdolell, an associate professor in the radiology department at Dalhousie University.

The Web-based cancer data management software Caisis, which was developed at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, forms the basis of the system, combining electronic medical records, specimen tracking, statistical analysis and reporting, and clinical trial management, Aunt Minnie reports. It adds in the R statistical software programming language and the LaTeX document-preparation system, making the entire suite open source and easily modified to meet different facilities' unique needs.

BIEMR can be integrated with PACS, it can track individual women through the healthcare system and can produce reports on a range of parameters from breast imaging wait times to abnormality rates for each radiologist and for each facility.

"One of the most unique and valuable aspects of BIEMR is it allows you to track many performance indicators – and you can 'drill down' by site, by radiologist, by breast imaging modality – so you see where the bottlenecks are and you can continue to improve efficiency," said epidemiologist Jennifer Payne, who works in diagnostic radiology at Dalhousie University and at the Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program.

BIEMR results also can be exported to other systems for more sophisticated statistical analysis.

The Atlantic chapter of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the Public Health Agency of Canada funded development of the system, which will roll out in Newfoundland, Labrador and the Northwest Territories after Nova Scotia. The BIEMR team also plans to release it back to the Caisis development group at Memorial Sloan-Kettering for possible incorporation into the core software.

Breast cancer detection and treatment continues to evolve, with studies suggesting better results by adding ultrasound and MRI imaging to mammography and using lasers for radiation-free imaging. One study of early-stage breast cancer patients found that patient views of quality care varied from that used by hospitals while another comparing views of men and women found women tended to be less satisfied with their care.

To learn more:
- here's the IUCC story.
- read the Aunt Minnie article

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