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Nursing Informatics: Helping Solve Nursing Problems

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Informatics Nurse

Every specialty in nursing practice brings its own set of problems and solutions. Some problems are specific to certain fields of practice, while others are common to nursing as a whole. No matter your specialty, if you’re a practicing nurse then you’ve probably run into the following three problems at some time or another in your career. If you’re studying to become a nurse, you’ve likely heard these problems discussed in the classroom.

1. Too Busy to Focus on Patient Care

“I’d love to spend more time actually providing direct patient care,” says Rob, an RN with 6 years experience in a Rhode Island geriatric clinic. “The problem is that a lot of my time is taken up with busywork—documenting patient’s care, accessing files and transferring records to other clinics.” Robert is voicing a frustration many nurses encounter: one 2006 study showed that documenting care can take up to nearly 30% of a nurse’s time.

2. Limited Access to Evidence-Based Knowledge

Emily is a Connecticut-based nurse educator who specializes in cancer treatment research. “It’s extremely common for me to have to wait several weeks before receiving the results from individual treatment plans,” she says. “If I had immediate access to the effects of certain drugs on patients, I’d be able to…incorporate the knowledge into my lesson plans, helping the new generation of nurses to get out there with a full deck of cards, so to speak.”

3. Incomplete Understanding of Patient Health History

Electronic health records are supposed to be adopted across the board by 2014, but many clinics are still far away from this goal. Aaron, the director of an emergency clinic in rural Alabama, states that it’s not uncommon for out-of-town patients to be treated without full understanding of their medical history, including what medications they’re allergic to. “It’s obviously not ideal,” he admits, “but in an emergency situation it’s simply impossible to wait for a fax or a phone call.”

As you can imagine, these problems affect every branch of nursing. They add to nurses’ workloads, increase the probability of mistakes, and have a direct impact on the quality of patient care.

Nursing Informatics to the Rescue

The multi-disciplinary field of nursing informatics offers a solution to these three problems. Nursing informatics is a marriage of nursing science, computer science and information science, with the overarching goal of improving patient care. It integrates data, information and knowledge to help nurses make well-informed decisions in all circumstances.

Although a key imperative of nursing informatics is the construction and maintenance of systems that support the sharing of information, the importance goes far beyond the use of technology. Technology is pointless if it is misused or not taken advantage of. In addition to developing a technological framework for nursing communities across the nation, nursing informatics highlights the ongoing education and training of nurses in order to use technology appropriately.

Betty Nelson, PhD, RN, a registered nurse with more than 30 years experience as a clinician, administrator and educator, and an adjunct professor in Health Sciences and Nursing at American Sentinel University pointed out that Health Information Technology (Informatics) means different things to nurses depending on their role.

  • Clinician: you are or will be documenting in an electronic record.
  •  
  • Manager: you are or will be responsible to assure your staff’s accurate and timely documentation in an electronic record.
  •  
  • Academic Educator: you are and will be facing curriculum redesign to assure student nurses are skilled in basic computer literacy and are oriented to your clinical site’s electronic records.
  •  
  • Post-Academic Educator: you are or will be responsible for staff education EM/HR education programs and competencies.
  •  
  • If your role relies on access to patient care data for analysis and trending, such as Quality Improvement Specialists, Case Managers, Risk Managers and Nurse Researchers, you do or will have a more efficient and functional data set available.
  •  
  • Nurse Informaticist: you are and will be in demand.

Becoming an Informatics Nurse

Some of the important aptitudes an informatics nurse develops and uses include literacy, communication, research, and computer skills. If you are have little training in those areas, but are interested in helping to solve the problems mentioned above, don’t despair. These skills are highly teachable and adoptable. Many experienced nurses have returned to school to successfully master the skills needed to become an informatics nurse.

“I didn’t even know how to use email five years ago,” jokes Sandra, a project manager who recently received her degree in nursing informatics from an online program. “Now I work with a team of medical software developers to improve the way our hospital handles patient records. It’s nice to feel that I’m making a difference to health care in a ‘big picture’ kind of way.”

Nurse Informaticists are employed in hospitals and health systems, insurance companies, health information technology companies and consulting firms. Compensation can be quite high. Because this is a rapidly expanding field with widespread benefits, there is huge potential to blaze your own trail and make a real contribution to health care. Why not take the first step today?


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