By Holly J. Kulhawick, CTR
The National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA) recently asked members on its Facebook page, “Is tumor registry an outdated term?” The responses were spirited and detailed the ways tumor registry and the Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) credential can be confusing. For example, NCRA members noted that some of their colleagues and patients think they help patients register for treatment or that a CTR “certifies” tumors. There was a strong sense that the current terminology belittles what cancer registrars do, or gives the impression the work is less technically sophisticated than it is. In a time when registrars are struggling to defend the profession from automation and the fear that this automation will compromise data quality, the Facebook discussion suggested the time has come for the profession to revisit its terminology.
First, the term tumor is outdated on a number of fronts. Cancer registrars track more than tumors. They collect information on blood cancers and some benign and premalignant conditions. Second, the term tumor registrar is confusing. What does a “tumor registrar” do? A more descriptive term, such as Oncology Data Analyst or Oncology Data Manager, explains in three words the actual work of a registrar. Many NCRA members suggested this would help to emphasize the analytical aspects of the job and allow them to highlight to hospital administrators the role they play in supporting the cancer program and other oncology support services. Some facilities are already taking the lead, re-naming their Cancer Registry Department as the Oncology Support Services Department and updating their staff titles to Data Analysts. For some real-world examples of how CTRs can support an organization’s cancer program read “Unlock the Potential of the Cancer Registrar” (Oncology Issues, January/February 2016).
The Facebook posts also noted that the lack of clarity associated with “tumor registrar” does not help a profession that struggles to be recognized. A clear, concise title would go a long way to help elevate the work in the eyes of other health professionals. A change in terminology may also help with the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), which is a quality reporting program that encourages individual eligible professionals and group practices to report information to Medicare on the quality of care. A title such as Oncology Data Analyst or Oncology Data Manager flags the cancer registrar as someone who can assist with PQRS requirements, helping to advance the role of the registrar.
A name change would also help with the general public. Some registrars noted that they have spent time explaining to patients that they are not the hospital staff to help them register for chemotherapy. A more direct or clear term would help to eliminate this confusion. The concept of registration—while reflecting accurately the work of a CTR—makes some patients nervous. When they learn they are part of a large cancer registry, they want no part of it, believing it is too much government oversight. If the terminology were changed to Oncology Data Analyst or Oncology Data Manager, it might better convey that skilled and certified professionals are collecting the data and its use is highly regulated and needed to advance cancer care and treatment.
The Facebook discussion suggested there is strong agreement on possible new terminology: Oncology Data Analyst or Oncology Data Manager. But what are the next steps? The National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA) established a task force in 2008 to study the issue. At that time, there was insufficient member support to make a change. If members want to bring the issue to the forefront again, they can use NCRA’s formal process for members to be heard through its Advocacy and Technical Practice Directors (ATPDs). These board members serve as the liaisons between members and NCRA on matters of advocacy and technical practice. Interested members can go to the Raise Your Voice webpage to contact their ATPD to get the process started.
Guest blogger Holly J. Kulhawick, CTR, is Remote Abstractor for HCA/Methodist Healthcare San Antonio and Flatiron.
Learn more about the pivotal role your cancer registry can play in supporting your cancer program, during a session on how to “Improve Your Data Collection—Streamline Your Accreditation & Quality Reporting Processes” at the upcoming ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting, CANCERSCAPE, March 29-31, in Washington, D.C. Read the full agenda here.