What Is Nursing Informatics?

As the technology and systems required to deliver superior patient care multiply, nursing informatics has evolved to ensure that these systems—and the physicians, nurses, and staff who use them—are set up for success.

Nursing informatics is a specialty that combines technology and patient care. The nurse informaticist acts as the bridge between a healthcare organization’s systems and its providers and clinical staff. Because of their unique training both as registered nurses (RNs) and information technology specialists, nurse informaticists understand how all the pieces fit together and provide valuable input into how systems should be designed from a provider standpoint.

The need for nurse informaticists has arisen as today's healthcare professionals navigate interconnected enterprises filled with largely disconnected systems. For example, it’s possible today to use just one solution to manage all healthcare operations for governance, risk management, and compliance. However, that system must work with an electronic health records (EHR) platform and a medical diagnosis program, among others. When used effectively and in tandem, these solutions dramatically improve patient care quality and safety. Nursing informatics plays a significant role in selecting, implementing, constructing, and connecting healthcare information systems. Despite its influence and importance, it’s a role that often goes unrecognized in health systems. We define nursing informatics and demonstrate the positive impact it has on an organization when properly staffed and supported.

What is the nursing informatics specialty?

Since healthcare organizations began moving to EHRs, nursing informatics specialists have played a key role in the continuing evolution of healthcare. But what is nursing informatics, exactly? In Nursing Informatics: Scope and Standards of Practice 2nd Edition, the ANA defines it as:

… the specialty that integrates nursing science with multiple information and analytical sciences to identify, define, manage, and communicate data, information, knowledge, and wisdom in nursing practice.

The ANA goes onto advise that:

NI supports nurses, consumers, patients, the interprofessional healthcare team, and other stakeholders in their decision-making in all roles and settings to achieve desired outcomes. This support is accomplished through the use of information structures, information processes, and information technology.

The benefits of easing technological adoption and use by physicians and nurses cannot be overstated. Atul Gawande, MD, of Partners Healthcare, wrote a compelling article titled Why Doctors Hate Their Computers. With never-ending demands placed on clinicians today and their workdays stretching ever longer, the results are epidemic levels of burnout, depression, and even suicidal thinking. 

In a similar vein, newer studies seek to understand the relationship between documentation burden in our modern healthcare system and burnout in nurses and other providers working in direct patient care. In one survey, almost half of nurses (49%) reported feeling discomfort while entering chart data into a computerized point-of-care workstation, and 61% said they were concerned about the placement of technology. These findings underscore the importance of and need for clinical informaticists in easing the burden on providers.

The evolving definition of NI

The definition of nursing informatics has evolved over time, and we have yet to settle on a consensus definition. Some believe nursing informatics falls under the umbrella of medical informatics (also referred to as clinical informatics), while others contend that just as nursing is its own specialty with its own responsibilities, nursing informatics needs its own distinct definition as well.

Roles and responsibilities of a nurse informaticist

The day-to-day responsibilities of a nurse informaticist vary depending on organizational needs around information management. The American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA) is the association of professional nurses and associates who use informatics to improve the health of populations by optimizing information management and communication. Its members have roles in system design and implementation, education, research (analysis and evaluation), standards and policy development, quality improvement, and management and administration. The ANIA does not list the primary responsibilities of a nurse informaticist but published a position statement on the responsibilities of a CNIO.  

To help understand the roles we can refer to the American Medical Informatics Association's (AMIA) list of a nurse informaticist’s responsibilities, which are as follows:

  • Improve workflow through communication and information technologies
  • Retrieve and review information to improve patient safety
  •  Contribute to the construction of an interoperable national data infrastructure
  •  Advance public health by influencing health care policy
  • Develop information systems based on current standards of care
  • Ensure information systems remain updated
  • Educate staff on changes to EHRs and EMRs

Where do nurse informatics professionals work?

Nurse informaticists work in various settings to aid in managing the use of information systems, whether or not those healthcare sites or companies directly service patients. Examples include hospitals and health systems, urgent care clinics, counseling centers, technology companies (including telemedicine), ambulatory care centers, healthcare product companies, EHR companies, and many more. Typically, these professionals report up to IT or nurse leaders.  

Depending on the setting, nurse informaticists can hold one of several job titles. Informatics nurse, clinical informatics nurse, nursing informatics specialist, chief nursing officer, chief information officer, chief nursing informatics officer, clinical analyst, and health informatics officer are the most common titles nurse informaticists hold. Regardless, number of career opportunities can arise from a role in nursing informatics.

Nurse informaticists are, first and foremost, nurses. Most organizations prefer to hire informatics nurses who possess at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing (e.g., BSN or MSN), with many requiring a master’s degree in health informatics or a similar field of study.

Why is nursing informatics important?

Most organizations have knowledgeable and dedicated providers and staff who are truly committed to providing great care for their patients. Technology and software solutions can help make it easier for providers and staff to deliver high-quality patient care—if they’re properly implemented.

The field of nursing informatics produces professionals who help ensure a seamless relationship between the various systems within an organization, which in turn makes it easier for providers to focus on what’s most important: their patients.

Nurse informaticists also play a valuable role in the following areas, among others:

Improved quality of care and patient outcomes: One of the many benefits of incorporating technology into healthcare is that it makes it easier for providers to glean more data and information about their patients. But that data is only useful if it’s collected, analyzed, and applied, and shared effectively, and that can only happen if providers are able to easily use the organization’s EHR system.

Nurse informaticists help ensure EHRs are optimally designed to fit the organization’s workflow and are easy for providers to use. The less time providers have to spend navigating clunky or inefficient technology, the more time they can spend focusing on getting and sharing the right information about their patients.

More efficient clinical processes: Nursing informatics is all about efficiency. Technology solutions are designed to simplify provider workloads and streamline clinical processes, and nurse informaticists play a pivotal role in the proper setup and implementation of those solutions.

Organizational change management: Nurse informaticists are leaders in process and change management. A recent ANIA webinar addressed the need for these professionals to prepare for and guide others through change—planned initiatives, volatile environments, and/or unexpected situations—by:

  • anticipating where situations are moving
  • facilitating the implementation of change
  • sustaining momentum by taking charge and advancing progress

Advances in telehealth and other technology: The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically increased the importance of having an effective and efficient telehealth solution for healthcare organizations. Nurse informaticists have played a major role in evaluating telehealth platforms to ensure the technology is compatible with practice guidelines in ambulatory and hospital settings, as well as in helping implement and roll out these systems and train providers on how to effectively use them.

Patient care coordination: Patient care coordination is no easy task. It involves myriad moving parts (patients, providers, specialists, therapists, pharmacists, billing departments, and so on) that, if not effectively managed, can quickly turn into a confusing mess that threatens quality of care for the patient and introduces unnecessary risk. Nurse informaticists are trained to take a holistic approach to complex systems. Not only do they have the clinical knowledge necessary to anticipate patient and provider needs, but because they understand how these systems work, they can more readily anticipate potential failure points in the patient care cycle before they occur. In doing so, nurse informaticists can proactively address these obstacles and ensure a seamless and effective patient experience.

As technology’s role in healthcare continues to expand, so too will the role of nursing informatics in helping healthcare organizations adopt and effectively implement new technologies. A holistic and data-driven approach to patient care and healthcare operations benefits providers, staff, patients, and organizations—and nursing informatics plays a major part in ensuring this approach is successful.

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