The electronic health record is a potentially rich source of data for clinical research in the intensive care unit setting. We describe the iterative, multi-step process used to develop and test a data abstraction tool, used for collection of nursing care quality indicators from the electronic health record, for a pragmatic trial. We computed Cohen’s kappa coefficient (κ) to assess interrater agreement or reliability of data abstracted using preliminary and finalized tools. In assessing the reliability of study data (n = 1,440 cases) using the finalized tool, 108 randomly selected cases (10% of first half sample; 5% of last half sample) were independently abstracted by a second rater. We demonstrated mean κ values ranging from 0.61 to 0.99 for all indicators. Nursing care quality data can be accurately and reliably abstracted from the electronic health records of intensive care unit patients using a well-developed data collection tool and detailed training.