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Abstract | Recording of patient-reported outcomes (PROs) enables direct measurement of the experiences of patients with cancer. In the past decade, the use of PROs has become a prominent topic in health-care innovation; this trend highlights the role of the patient experience as a key measure of health-care quality. Historically, PROs were used solely in the context of research studies, but a growing body of literature supports the feasibility of electronic collection of PROs, yielding reliable data that are sometimes of better quality than clinician-reported data. The incorporation of electronic PRO (ePRO) assessments into standard health-care settings seems to improve the quality of care delivered to patients with cancer. Such efforts, however, have not been widely adopted, owing to the difficulties of integrating PRO-data collection into clinical workflows and electronic medical-record systems. The collection of ePRO data is expected to enhance the quality of care received by patients with cancer; however, for this approach to become routine practice, uniquely trained people, and appropriate policies and analytical solutions need to be implemented. In this Review, we discuss considerations regarding measurements of PROs, implementation challenges, as well as evidence of outcome improvements associated with the use of PROs, focusing on the centrality of PROs as part of ‘big-data' initiatives in learning health-care systems.