Whenever I have begun a new job as patient navigator in a hospital or clinic, one of the first colleagues whom I seek out to befriend is the cancer registrar. I have found that people in these positions are repositories of vast amounts of information, data, and ideas that are key to the smooth functioning of a busy cancer program. Certified tumor registrars (CTRs) have become an integral part of the cancer care team by providing quality cancer data essential for improving statistical, public health, and cancer-control research with a strong potential impact on patient well-being. CTRs have also been found to be valuable in other health care settings besides oncology.1
Cancer registry is a specialty within the field of health information technology. CTRs—who must complete 20 hours of continuing medical education (CME) credit every 2 years to maintain a certified status—manage cancer patient databases, recording information that may be used to help detect cancer earlier, improve treatments, and increase survival rates. They are responsible for compiling and reporting data from all the medical facilities that treat a patient. Not only do they read and interpret paper and electronic medical and pathology records to determine patient eligibility for the cancer registry, but they are also charged with developing abstracts from multiple medical records by translating the medical terminology into standardized codes. Other duties typically include following up with registry patients to track their progress, maintaining processes that protect the privacy and confidentiality of patient information, and assisting with special projects.2
It is in the area of special projects that the job functions of navigators and CTRs complement each other so well. The navigator and the cancer registrar collect and evaluate similar data and are responsible for the maintenance of accreditation programs at our facility. We collaborate with each other on community action plans, quality improvement projects, and data collection for weekly tumor boards. This partnership is crucial and beneficial to foster in order to provide high-quality information to our employer and optimize patient care. Navigators and CTRs have worked together on a variety of projects, including:
- Initiation of tailored screening mammogram programs for underserved and underinsured women in our community
- Participation in our CME committee meetings to ensure that cancer-related topics are included in our weekly lunch seminars
- Collaboration on processes to increase the number of tailored survivorship care plans that are ready to disseminate to patients who have completed first-line treatment
- Creation of a Community Needs Assessment, which is required by both the Commission on Cancer and the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers
- Development of institutional policies that reflect the cancer program framework, as well as the responsibilities and evidence-based practice measures underlying our processes
I have been very fortunate to work with some of the best CTRs in the field. In my current navigator position, I have had an outstanding collaborative experience with the CTR at my institution, which has led to an enduring friendship. Maximizing the potential of the navigator-CTR relationship is key to the success of a cancer program and should be encouraged in any multidisciplinary approach to cancer care.
Has anyone had similar experiences with their organizations’ cancer registrars?
1. Peterson J. Encouraging health information management graduates to pursue cancer registry careers. J Registry Manag. 2016;43:37-41.
2. Chiang CJ, You SL, Chen CJ, et al. Quality assessment and improvement of nationwide cancer registration system in Taiwan: a review. Jpn J Clin Oncol. 2015;45:291-6.