Nurses have long used data to manage and improve patient care.
“Florence Nightingale used informatics,” said Patricia P. Sengstack, DNP, RN-BC, CPHIMS, president of the American Nursing Informatics Association and chief nursing informatics officer for Bon Secours Health System.
Sengstack noted that the founder of modern nursing gathered and analyzed statistics in an effort to improve sanitation and patient care in hospitals. What is relatively new, however, is the use of digital platforms in health care settings to compile and analyze data.
Nurses who work in informatics are responsible for tasks such as customizing EHRs to fit the particular needs of a hospital or clinic, analyzing data to determine ways to improve patient care, and managing the flow of data among health care professionals.
“Florence Nightingale used informatics.”
The International Medical Informatics Association’s Nursing Informatics Special Interest Group defines nursing informatics as the “science and practice that integrates nursing, its information and knowledge, with management of information and communication technologies to promote the health of people, families and communities worldwide.” About 8,000 nurses in the United States work in the informatics field.
While rudimentary electronic health records systems were available as far back as the 1980s, and the American Nursing Credentialing Center has offered certification in nursing informatics since 1992, EHRs did not become widespread until the past few years. The recent boom is due in part to federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services financial incentives to convert. The federal Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 50 percent of physician offices and 80 percent of hospitals now use EHRs in a way that complies with CMS meaningful use criteria.
Nurses bring the unique perspective of patient care experts to teams that include information technology staff and medical coders.
As more and more health care facilities adopt electronic health records and other electronic recordkeeping and patient care systems, health care facilities are looking for professionals to customize and manage these systems. Nurses bring the unique perspective of patient care experts to teams that include information technology staff and medical coders.
Nurses may draw upon patient care knowledge, for instance, to work with IT specialists to customize an EHR to make sure that a patient’s medication allergy alerts are inserted in the appropriate areas of the patient’s EHR. They also need to make sure the information is transmitted to the right caregivers at the right time throughout the patients’ stay at the hospital.
To excel in the field, nursing informatics professionals need a blend of nursing acumen and technical savvy.
“They need to have a firm grasp on the nursing process – ‘assess, plan, implement and evaluate’ –understand clinical processes, how patients navigate through the health care system, and how care is delivered,” said Sengstack.
Although nurses from all disciplines are drawn to informatics, nurses who have worked in critical care, surgical, or emergency nursing seem especially interested in the field.
“All are areas that are fairly technology intense, so there may be a level of comfort with technology for those of us that have made the transition,” said Sengstack.
Nurses can receive training in informatics in a variety of ways, including on the job training, certificate programs, or graduate degree programs. About 15 percent of nurses working as informatics professionals have a master’s degree in nursing informatics, while 56 percent have a graduate degree in nursing or another field, according to the HIMSS 2011 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey. Fifteen percent report learning informatics through on-the-job training, and 19 percent have earned certification in nursing informatics from the American Nursing Credentialing Center.
Nearly half of nurses in the informatics field are currently employed in hospitals and other acute care settings, but Sengstack predicts that more and more will work in outpatient settings…
While a nurse can learn about informatics on the job, it is helpful to have a graduate degree in order to learn the theory of informatics, noted Sengstack. Classes in a graduate program in informatics generally include courses in population health, biostatistics, and database management.
Salaries are competitive, with an average salary of $98,702, according to the 2011 HIMSS survey. Nearly half of nurses in the informatics field are currently employed in hospitals and other acute care settings, but Sengstack predicts that more and more will work in outpatient settings, including ambulatory clinics, doctor’s offices, and hospices, as patient care increasingly shifts out of hospitals. What’s more, as patients become more engaged and involved in their own health care, nursing informatics will also focus more on customizing electronic health records systems to include patient involvement and feedback, she said.