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Importance of Common Data Elements (CDEs)

The biomedical community continually experiences data management issues due to a single concept being described in many different ways with lack of appropriate data descriptors (metadata). CDEs (Common Data Elements) help provide consistency in the way data is collected, formatted and described. Each CDE contains information (metadata) about the actual piece of data collected (such as a question on a clinical form, lab result or information about a specimen). The metadata describes the collected data in such a way that it can be compared to similar data collected at a different institution or from a different study, possibly resulting in data harmonization and analysis of a single uniform data set. Each set of agreed upon CDEs produces a data dictionary (derived from the metadata) that can facilitate the discussion, harmonization, and analysis of data. We encourage use of CDEs not only to assist with a single study and its associated data capture, analysis, and presentation but to also enhance and assure potential for future data sharing; a current focus of many funding sources.

COMPASS has developed systems for managing CDEs, building forms based upon collections of CDEs and providing data dictionaries for forms or selected CDEs from our COMPASS repository. In addition, CDEs and accompanying metadata describing the CDE, can be exported for incorporation into other, external CDE repositories.

COMPASS staff includes a CDE specialist in residence who uses the CDE and Forms management tools to curate CDEs, create forms for use on studies and harmonize data from multiple sources.