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Nursing Informatics – A Needed Role in Today’s Health Care

Today we are living in the digital era of health care. Experts defined this as the incorporation of computer information technology in providing care to patients not only in the hospital but in all healthcare settings.

This is the age wherein health care professionals no longer live in the Jurassic period of providing health care to patients. In this article, we will examine the world of Nursing Informatics and its significance to today’s mainstream of health care.

What is Nursing Informatics?

The use of technology is not new to nurses.For nearly 50 years, nurses have used various forms of machine technology in caring for their patients to gather data, monitor patients, generate information, and provide care.

In addition to this, the advent of computer information technology augmented this competency to a more higher level of patient care. Nurses today are able to process and communicate doctor’ orders remotely, retrieves laboratory results instantly, and performs automated nursing documentation.

But despite this knowledge, there is still a need for nurses to develop certain skill sets and academic preparation in this area to be full partners in this emerging field. This is how Nursing Informatics came to be.

Graves and Corcoran defined Nursing Informatics as

‘”a combination of computer science, information science and nursing science designed to assist in the management and processing of nursing data, information and knowledge to support the practice of nursing and the delivery of nursing care.”

The American Nurses Association (ANA, 2008) defines this specialty as

“a specialty that integrates nursing science, computer science, and information science to manage and communicate data, information, and knowledge in nursing practice.  Nursing informatics facilitates the integration of data, information and knowledge to support patients, nurses and other providers in their decision-making in all roles and settings.  This support is accomplished through the use of information structures, information processes, and information technology.”

Nurses who decide to take this specialty takes the role of Informatics Nurse Specialist. Other titles include or Nurse Informaticist, Clinical Analyst, Director of Clinical Informatics, or Clinical Informatics Coordinator.

nursing informaticsSignificance of Nursing Informatics

Nursing Informatics can be applied to all areas of nursing practice, which include; clinical practice, administration, education, and research. Below are some examples of how nursing informatics, information technology, and computers, are used to support various areas of nursing practice.

Nursing Clinical Practice (Point-of-Care Systems and Clinical Information Systems)

  • Worklists to remind staff of planned nursing interventions
  • Computer generated client documentation
  • Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and Computer-Based Patient Record (CPR)
  • Monitoring devices that record vital signs and other measurements directly into the client record (electronic medical record)
  • Computer – generated nursing care plans and critical pathways
  • Automatic billing for supplies or procedures with nursing documentation
  • Reminders and prompts that appear during documentation to ensure comprehensive charting

Nursing Administration (Health Care Information Systems)

  • Automated staff scheduling
  • E-mail for improved communication
  • Cost analysis and finding trends for budget purposes
  • Quality assurance and outcomes analysis

Nursing Education

  • Computerized record-keeping
  • Computerized-assisted instruction
  • Interactive video technology
  • Distance Learning-Web based courses and degree programs
  • Internet resources-CEU’s and formal nursing courses and degree programs
  • Presentation software for preparing slides and handouts-PowerPoint and MS Word

Nursing Research

  • Computerized literature searching-CINAHL, Medline and Web sources
  • The adoption of standardized language related to nursing terms-NANDA, etc.
  • The ability to find trends in aggregate data, that is data derived from large population groups-Statistical Software, SPSS

The Role of the Informatics Nurse Specialist (INS)

Just like any other nursing specialty, a nurse who decides to take the role of an Informatics Nurse Specialist will undergo formal academic preparation (masters degree), testing and certification, and practical experience in using computers in patient care settings. From ANA (1994), the following are expected functions of the INS:

  • Theory development. The INS contributes to the scientific knowledge base of nursing informatics.
  • Analysis of information needs. The identification of information that nurses’ need to in order to accomplish their work; client care, education, administration, and research
  • Selection of computer systems. The INS guides the user in making informed decisions related to the purchase of computer systems.
  • Design of computer systems and customizations. The INS collaborates with users and computer programmers to make decisions about how data will be displayed and accessed.
  • Testing of computer systems. Systems must be checked for proper functioning before they are made available for use in patient care.
  • Training users of computer systems. Users need to be trained in how the system works, the importance of accurate data entry, and how the system will benefit them, and more importantly how it will improve patient outcomes
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of computer systems. The unique role of the INS makes them the ideal person to evaluate the effectiveness of computer systems.
  • Ongoing maintenance and enhancements. The INS makes sure the computerized system functions properly and explores possible enhancements to the system that will better serve the users and the patients.
  • Identification of computer technologies that can benefit nursing. The INS must keep abreast of the changes in the fields of computers and information technology, including new hardware and software that will benefit the nurse and patient.