Have you ever wondered what nursing informatics is? Well, you’re not alone! The field of nursing informatics is so complex that it can’t be defined in one sentence, but it has a profound effect on all aspects of healthcare. In this article, we break down the mystique around informatics and explain what is so amazing about the nurse informaticist. As nursing and technology advance, the field of nursing informatics grows and evolves. One of the largest reasons for the evolution of informatics was the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. This act encouraged the adoption of health information technology (HIT) with five goals in mind.
Nursing informatics was recognized as a specialty by the American Nurses Association (ANA) in 1992. It uses technology to transform healthcare data into information that can be used to improve healthcare equity, safety, quality, and outcomes (ANA, 2022). This data is converted into user-friendly information using a combination of nursing, computer, and information science and system-driven analytics. This allows for timely and accurate patient information to be delivered to the interprofessional team via the electronic health record (EHR). Some benefits of nursing informatics include streamlined clinical workflows, reduction in medical errors, improved productivity and patient outcomes, enhanced communication between interprofessional team members, easier access to patient records, and contact with a clinical expert versed in HIT.
With progression in HIT comes an increased need for specialists who can act as interpreters between healthcare and technology. Many organizations have dedicated staff committed to the use of technology in healthcare. These staff members are healthcare informaticists. Nurse informaticists are, first and foremost, nurses. They have spent years becoming clinical experts and combine this with an expertise in information technology. This dual expertise perfectly places nurse informaticists in a position to provide education to clinical staff on new, existing, and changing HIT. Conversely, they are relied upon by systems designers who do not have clinical backgrounds to make recommendations and suggestions.
Another role of the nurse informaticist is to streamline clinical workflows and enhance communication between interprofessional team members. They do this by analyzing current methods of practice for areas of improvement. The nurse informaticists then use the analyzed information to create more efficient processes using HIT. This can include bridging gaps and redundancies in communication and documentation. The specialty of informatics wouldn’t be possible without professionals ensuring a relationship between organizational systems and technology, allowing for caregivers to focus more time on patient care rather than locating or documenting information.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses tapped into their inner informaticists by devising ways to use technology to enhance and streamline patient care. Visitors weren’t allowed in the hospitals, and many patients were on oxygen devices that prevented them from talking over the phone. When the usual modes of communication were not available, nurses lobbied for iPads on units to video call patients’ loved ones and promote emotional contact and connection. Telehealth visits, “Hospital-at-Home,” remote patient monitoring, and remote clinical decision-making support became more prevalent and widely accepted. These changes had a profound impact on the way healthcare was delivered and highlighted the importance of technology, nursing informatics, and the role of the nurse informaticist. This attention has opened the door to new HIT and underscored the goals of the HITECH Act.
HITECH ACT and HIT
The HITECH Act of 2009 sought to achieve five goals:
- Promote and incentivize the use of HIT.
- Create HIT standards and policy committees to determine HIT standards.
- Adopt and apply HIT standards to healthcare.
- Improve privacy and security provisions.
- Improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of healthcare (U.S. Congress, 2009).
Prior to the HITECH Act, only about 10% of hospital facilities had EHRs in place (Alder, 2023). EHRs allow an easier exchange of information between providers and clearer documentation. They include built-in safeguards for medication administration and can be easier and faster to navigate than paper health records. To improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of U.S. healthcare, there needed to be widespread use of EHRs. The HITECH Act incentivized healthcare providers to adopt EHRs and enhance healthcare data privacy and security.
As technology in nursing continues to evolve, so will nursing informatics and the role of the informaticist. They are the ones responsible for streamlining patient information and data to improve patient outcomes. With healthcare professionals embracing all the possibilities of informatics-driven strategies, it provides opportunities for nurses to stay ahead of the curve and change the way care is delivered to patients. There are critics who believe nurses rely too much on computers and technology, but the evidence continues to show how technology improves patient care and outcomes. Becoming knowledgeable about the “info on informatics” will prepare nurses for career advancement.
Alder, S. (2023). What is the Hitech Act? 2023 update - HIPAA Journal. HIPAA Journal. https://www.hipaajournal.com/what-is-the-hitech-act/
American Nurses Association (ANA). (2022). Nursing informatics: Scope and standards of Practice (3rd ed.).
One Hundred Eleventh Congress of the United States of America. (2009). Index for excerpts from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of ... Index for Excerpts from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). https://www.healthit.gov/sites/default/files/hitech_act_excerpt_from_arra_with_index.pdf
Rebecca Callahan, BSN, RN, CMSRN, has been a registered nurse for over 10 years. She earned her associate degree while attending Cuyahoga Community College. After graduating, she began her career on an ENT and plastic surgery step-down unit with the Cleveland Clinic and then received her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Notre Dame College. During her years with Cleveland Clinic, she was known for ensuring her patients received the highest level of care. She was a member of shared governance, on the Image and Branding council, a diabetes mentor, a vascular access nurse trained in ultrasound, and a magnet representative. She has a passion for providing compassionate and quality care, and she has played a large part in improving quality metrics by completing research and submitting multiple abstracts presented to the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. Rebecca is now attending Purdue University to obtain her master’s in nursing executive leadership, all while serving as the chair of the AMSN Scope and Standards Task Force, writing the Scope and Standards of Medical-Surgical Nursing 7th edition. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys spending time with her family, including her French bulldogs and wolfdogs, as well as volunteering with AMSN.
Danielle Hartigan, MSN/MBA, RN, CMSRN, CCRN, has been a registered nurse for 10 years. Starting her adult life as an engineering major at the U.S. Naval Academy, she decided to become a registered nurse instead. She has experience ranging from long-term care to critical care nursing and has practiced as a medical-surgical nurse educator and assistant nurse manager for an organizationwide float pool. Danielle is currently practicing as a nurse informaticist and is serving on the AMSN Scope and Standards Task Force.