It is commonly acknowledged that nursing care is underrepresented in the healthcare record. The nursing minimum data set (NMDS) has been proposed as a method of routinely collecting information on core aspects of the nursing contribution to care, organised primarily in terms of phenomena, interventions and outcomes. Potential applications in clinical nursing, healthcare management, education and research have been identified. NMDS systems have been developed in a number of countries, with applications mostly related to resource allocation. To date, NMDS systems have tended to examine physical nursing care provided in institutional settings, with implications for construct and content validity. While NMDS research helps to clarify the nursing contribution to care, attention is now required to better understand the domains of nursing care across a broader range of care settings.