Do you have an aptitude for information technology (IT)? Would you like to help transform health care and bridge the gap between IT and nursing practice? If so, consider a career in nursing informatics.
What is nursing informatics?
According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), nursing informatics “integrates nursing science, computer science, and information science to manage and communicate data, information, knowledge, and wisdom in nursing practice.” Registered nurses who come into the field by way of on-the-job training or continuing education are called Informatics Nurses. Nurses who earn an MS or a PhD in nursing informatics or earn a post-MS certificate in nursing informatics or a related field, such as biomedical or health informatics or information management, are called Informatics Nurse Specialists. Both are helping transform health care by providing essential information to students, educators, clinicians, consumers, administrators, scientists, and policymakers when and where they need it.
Although many nurses got their start in informatics through on-the-job training or continuing education, the increasing complexity of the field and the demanding performance standards of today’s workplaces make formal education increasingly important. To practice nursing informatics as an expert, you need to study it at the postgraduate level.
Want to know more? Here’s an overview of five key specialty areas: clinical informatics, consumer-health informatics, educational informatics, public-health informatics, and research in nursing informatics.
Most nurses in informatics take jobs that draw directly on their clinical backgrounds as well as their organizational skills and informatics knowledge. Within this area, nurses may choose Applied/Professional roles, which focus on the technical aspects of development and evaluation of systems, or Expert/Liaison roles, which focus on needs assessment, system selection, marketing, education, and implementation. In either role, you can help bring clinical practice and IT together, and you can improve patient care, make the value of nursing more visible, reduce the burden of paperwork, and improve communication among members of interdisciplinary teams.
With the current emphasis on health promotion, disease prevention, self-management, and patient-centered care, consumer-health informatics is expanding rapidly to deliver information via the Internet and other electronic media.
Nurses working in consumer-health informatics focus on assessing consumers' needs for health information and treatments, conducting research on how to meet consumers’ needs for health information, aiding self-management of health and illness, and integrating consumers' preferences into information systems.
Informatics Nurses and Specialists develop and improve systems in these areas:
• telemedicine, which delivers services at a distance
• telehealth, which promotes health with interactive educational materials and self-management systems
• telemonitoring, which delivers patient data to clinicians
Informatics Nurses and Specialists who focus on education develop, select, implement, and evaluate learning resources for consumers or healthcare professionals. Here are a few examples of how educational informatics enhances learning: To make Web-based courses more realistic and interactive, faculty members at the University of South Florida provided synchronous, online lectures and virtual breakout rooms for students’ work on group projects. And at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, informatics faculty members and clinical faculty members are revising clinical courses to integrate the use of the electronic health record with simulated patients at every stage of the nursing process.
Nurses in public health and epidemiology obtain, synthesize, and provide community-health information to consumers, other healthcare workers, and policymakers. The fledgling field of public-health informatics addresses the information needs of policymakers and public health professionals by applying informatics principles at the community and population levels.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments have identified several areas of focus for public-health informatics:
• developing a public-health information network to share information among state and local public-health organizations
• developing an information exchange service for public-health providers at the regional level
• improving biosurveillance programs by rapidly sharing information about health threats, such as disease outbreaks and adverse drug effects
• improving the collection, distribution, and security of vital statistics.
Research in nursing informatics
Using systematic methods to collect and analyze data, informatics nurse specialists can build knowledge that applies across settings and applications. A specialist can assess the readiness of an organization for new technology, the needs for IT, the adequacy of available technologies to meet the needs, the factors associated with successful implementation, and the impact of the technology on work flow and organizational dynamics. Focusing on consumer-health informatics, a specialist can study the impact of the informatics intervention on health practices and outcomes.
Nurses with a Doctorate of Nursing Practice can develop and use informatics tools to obtain and apply evidence to improve patient care. Nurses with academic doctoral degrees (PhD, DNSc, and the like) are developing standards for representing data, information, and knowledge in information systems; developing methods of decision support for nurses; investigating new technologies to support nursing processes; and advancing knowledge about how nurses use and communicate data, information, and knowledge.
Making things better
If you choose informatics as a career, you will be introducing changes to the ways people work, think, learn, and live. Making things better can be very satisfying, but remember that people and systems tend to resist change. Informatics nurses and specialists need a high tolerance for uncertainty, strong organizational and management skills, and knowledge of and abilities in interpersonal and organizational dynamics. A sense of humor helps, too!
American Nurses Association. Scope and standards of nursing informatics practice (Draft submitted for public comment 2007 April 2). Silver Spring, MD: American Nurses Association; 2007.
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Public Health Informatics Workforce Issue Report. Washington, DC: Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; June 2006.
Hersh W. Who are the informaticians? What we know and should know. J Am Inform Assoc. 2006;13:166-170.
Little BB, Passmore D, Schullo S. Using synchronous software in Web-based nursing courses. Comput Inform Nurs. 2006;24(6):317-325.
Tilley DS, Boswell C, Cannon S. Developing and establishing online student learning communities. Comput Inform Nurs. 2006;24(3):144-149.
For a complete list of selected references, visit www.AmericanNurse Today.com.
Judy Ozbolt, PhD, RN, FAAN, FACMI, FAIMBE, is Professor and Program Director of Nursing Informatics at the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore, Maryland. Eun-Shim Nahm, PhD, RN, is an Associate Professor of Nursing Informatics, and Darryl Roberts, MS, RN, and Marisa Wilson, DNSc, RN, are Assistant Professors of Nursing Informatics at the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore.