Common Data Elements (CDEs) Program

About the Common Data Elements (CDE) Program

The HEAL research portfolio spans a broad array of data types that are a rich resource for future studies. Maximizing the value of data collected through the initiative is part of HEAL’s collective responsibility, given the magnitude of the opioid crisis and needs of individuals experiencing pain and addiction.

The NIH HEAL Initiative’s CDE Program supports HEAL’s Public Access and Data Sharing policy, which requires researchers to develop plans to share their project’s underlying primary data through a repository that is appropriate for the data type and research discipline, and will connect and expose data via the HEAL Platform.

To facilitate cross-study comparisons and improve the interpretability of findings, clinical pain research grantees collaborate and agree to use common data elements for patient-reported outcomes (PROs).

What is a common data element (CDE)?

CDEs are defined fields describing the data to be collected (e.g., identifying specific variables) along with how to gather the data (e.g., PROs), and how the response is represented in a dataset (e.g., allowable responses or variable coding). CDEs are structured as indivisible units of data. This can be either an individual field (e.g., sex) or multiple fields taken together (e.g., the composite score of a scale).

A common data element can be used in multiple clinical studies, with content standards that can be applied to different data collection models that are dynamic and may evolve over time. CDEs enable interoperability among data systems.

NIH HEAL Initiative clinical pain research studies are required to collect a core group of CDEs, a minimal and defined set of PROs, for nine of the most important domains for pain. Investigators can use supplemental CDEs as appropriate for their study.

What are the core CDEs?

NIH staff, in collaboration with HEAL investigators and other pain research experts, went through a comprehensive process to identify the nine core pain domains and the appropriate questionnaires that studies should use to collect these data.

The nine core pain domains are:

  • Pain intensity
  • Pain interference
  • Physical functioning/quality of life
  • Sleep
  • Pain catastrophizing
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Global satisfaction with treatment
  • Substance use screener

For each domain, there is a questionnaire identified for use in acute pain in adults, chronic pain in adults, and pediatric pain (both acute and chronic).

Table: Pain domains and patient-reported outcome (PRO) questionnaires for acute and chronic pain for adults and pediatric patients.

Pain Domain   PRO Questionnaire PRO Questionnaire PRO Questionnaire
N/A Adult Acute Pain  Adult Chronic Pain  Pediatric Acute and Chronic Pain* 
Pain Intensity BPI Pain Severity  PEG  BPI Pain Severity 
Pain Interference  BPI Pain Interference  PEG  BPI Pain Interference 
Physical Functioning/QOL  PROMIS Physical Functioning Short Form 6b  PROMIS Physical Functioning Short Form 6b  PedsQL Inventory 
Sleep  PROMIS Sleep Disturbance 6a + Sleep Duration Question  PROMIS Sleep Disturbance 6a + Sleep Duration Question  AWS + Sleep Duration Items 
Pain Catastrophizing Pain Catastrophizing Scale – Short Form 6  Pain Catastrophizing Scale – Short Form 6  Pain Catastrophizing Scale for Children 
Depression PHQ-2 PHQ-2 PHQ-2 (child and parent)
Anxiety GAD-2  For parent: Pain Catastrophizing Scale GAD-2 (child and parent)
Global Satisfaction with Treatment PGIC PGIC PGIC
Substance Use Screener TAPS 1 TAPS 1 NIDA Modified Assist Tool - 2 

*Pediatric studies will require the child, and in some cases the parent, to complete questionnaires.

What are supplemental CDEs?

In addition to the core CDEs, HEAL has identified hundreds of potential supplemental questionnaires that may be used depending on a study’s subject matter. Investigators also will be asked to submit supplemental questionnaires that they plan to use and that are not already available within the HEAL CDE Program, to ensure there can be uniform collection of data that ensures compatibility across studies as the field considers unique or innovative research questions. The full list of supplemental questionnaires is available here.

The NIH HEAL Initiative will provide web-based access to clinical pain case report forms (CRFs) and CDE details that can be utilized to conduct secondary analyses.

What are the benefits of the CDE Program?

The CDE Program will make it easier to consistently code and harmonize data across studies in a way that is cost-effective and efficient and provides rapid access to data. NIH encourages the use of CDEs in part to create “opportunities for comparison or combination of data from multiple studies.” Secondary data analysis is used to compare interventions across studies or lend statistical power to subgroup analysis to help find solutions for minority populations, rare disease patients, or others who are typically underrepresented in research.

The CDE program will enable an unprecedented opportunity for data harmonization that could help prompt secondary-data analyses that go beyond the purposes of the original data collection.

Other possible benefits of the CDE Program include:

  • The ability to compare interventions. CDEs could enable researchers to more easily compare the effects of different interventions and combine study samples to enable analysis of subgroups that may be too small to separately analyze in a single study.  
  • Access to a source of preclinical data. The existence of a large, open-source dataset thanks to the harmonized data from across HEAL-funded pain studies and beyond should make it easier to source preclinical information from existing human data, rather than the animal models from which it is typically drawn.
  • A better understanding. Requiring the full core of pain domains will lead to a more nuanced understanding of how pain affects different patients and how different therapies affect the whole spectrum of pain-related effects.
  • A larger evidence base. Uniform data collection, in conjunction with access to data and results generated by the NIH HEAL Initiative, will also be useful in the clinical setting, as practitioners could have a better evidence base to help make treatment decisions for patients in minority groups or with underlying health conditions who may not be well represented in individual studies. Similarly, larger, standardized evidence bases collected with uniform clinical pain measures could help inform coverage decisions by health insurers, and decisions made by federal, state, and local policymakers and government officials who are trying to address opioid misuse and pain.

HEAL clinical pain data could also help guide future research in unforeseen ways, as it will be available for hypothesis generation and pilot testing to a community of clinical pain investigators with diverse experience and perspectives. Creating straightforward, secure access to HEAL data, publications, and research findings enriches the overall data ecosystem and can be used well into the future for new discovery and translation efforts.

How can I access the core and supplemental CDEs?

The database of CDEs and associated case-report forms (questionnaires) are available upon request. Please contact Laura Wandner, Ph.D., in the Office of Pain Policy and Planning at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, for more information: [email protected].

HEAL Initiative clinical studies that are using copyrighted questionaries are required to obtain licenses for use prior to initiating data collection. Licenses must be shared with the HEAL CDE team and the program officer prior to use of copyrighted materials.

If referencing the NIH HEAL Initiative CDE Program in your paper, please cite this web page.

How can my questionnaire be included in the supplemental CDEs?

If your questionnaire is not already included in the supplemental CDEs, it can be considered for inclusion by the HEAL CDE Program team by contacting Dr. Laura Wandner ([email protected]).

All new HEAL clinical pain studies are required to submit their case-report forms/questionnaires to the CDE Program. The program will create the CDE files containing standardized variable names, responses, coding, and other information. The program will also format the case-report forms in a standardized way that is compliant with accessibility standards under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C § 794 (d)), which “require[s] Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities.”

The HEAL CDE Program will also ask for 1) a reference for the CRF, 2) if applicable, instructions about how to score the questionnaire, and 3) a copy of the questionnaire.

New investigators must submit their list of questionnaires, case-report forms, references, and scoring instructions 3 months in advance of their study’s anticipated start.

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