While images of bedside care and clinical settings may immediately spring to mind when one hears the word “nursing,” the truth is that the profession is rapidly evolving to include more versatility—especially when it comes to technology. Enter the field of nursing informatics, which brings nursing, computer science and information science together.
Nursing informaticists play a profound role in improving patient outcomes and supporting health care providers.
Understanding Nursing Informatics
The days of a simple paper and pen documentation system for medical professionals is long gone. The technology available to medical professionals, including nurses, helps them to promote the safety of patients, their information and communities at large. Nursing informatics includes all data that relates to a patient’s wellbeing, such as medical history and lab results. But the field doesn’t stop there—rather, nursing informaticists bring together clinical information and technical processes to update workflows, improve systems and coordinate care, as well.
The Importance of Nursing Informatics
Nursing informatics plays a critical role in developing, implementing and maintaining technology systems that improve patient outcomes and empower health care workers. Thought of as dual-language speakers—fluent in both technology and health care—nursing informaticists bring together multiple fields, systems of analysis and tools in order to promote health.
Consider a few case studies of informatics in the healthcare field that do just that.
Reducing Medication Errors
Computer provider order entry (CPOE) refers to an application that health care providers use to directly enter medical orders through a computer system. This enables providers, such as nurses, to input and access information with speed and efficiency. But the informatics application does not merely enhance workflow, it can drastically improve patient outcomes by reducing medication errors, as well.
For example, a study that researched the impact of CPOE on the incidence of chemotherapy-related medication errors found that implementation of the application reduced such errors by a staggering 81 percent. Not only that, but the study reported that CPOE reduced medical errors in 76 percent of all hospitalized patients and 85 percent of patients in the intensive care unit.
Increasing Capacity for Patient Visits
The technology developments in nursing informatics have made a huge difference in giving time back to health care professionals, which allows them to:
- Spend more time with patients
- Accommodate patient schedules
- See more patients, thereby improving health for more people
Take Michelle Meyer-Ban, RNC, MSN, WHNP-BC, a board certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, for example. Determined to accommodate women’s busy schedules as much as possible, Meyer-Ban set out to find a new billing process for her practice. But the biller she chose wasn’t getting the job done, so Meyer-Ban brought the task back onto her own plate.
She decided to try an integrated electronic health record solution that included medical billing, and the results were excellent for patients and providers alike. Thanks to the informatics software, Meyer-Ban has seen patient visits triple and reduced her accounts receivable average days to less than thirty.
Roles and Responsibilities of Nursing Informaticists
While the roles and responsibilities of nursing informaticists may vary somewhat across positions and workplaces, Health Catalyst identifies three core tasks of the role:
- Understand and communicate the “why” behind new processes.
- Implement new processes.
- Validate data quality.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc. (HIMSS) adds that nursing informaticists are change innovators who play a primary role in:
- Establishing new clinical workflows
- Increasing operational efficiencies
- Improving care quality for new patients
These roles may include tasks such as implementing electronic health records or patient portals, facilitating high-performing virtual care processes, or streamlining pre-screening systems.
When it comes to job titles, the HIMSS 2020 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey lists the following nursing informatics titles as the most common among professionals:
- Nursing Informatics Specialist
- Clinical Analyst
- Director of Clinical Informatics
- Manager of Clinical Informatics
- Nurse Educator/Instructor
Other titles include consultant, chief nursing informatics officer, professor and clinical applications specialist.
The Job Outlook for Nurse Informaticists
Since nursing informatics takes place at the intersection of healthcare and technology, one may wonder where professionals in the field work. Are they hospital employees? Do they work for vendors such as software companies? Do other sectors of industry employ them?
The HIMSS Survey reports that the answer to all of those questions is “yes.” Their data found that, of 1,359 nursing informaticist survey respondents, 68 percent work for a hospital or multi-facility health system. Vendors and payers, the government and military, ambulatory care and academic settings all employ nursing informaticists as well, but each of these sectors represents less than ten percent of nursing informaticists, respectively.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically provide employment data on nursing informaticists. However, they do state that jobs for medical and health services managers are expected to grow by 28 percent between 2021 and 2031. They also report a median salary of $101,340 for medical and health services managers as of May 2021.
According to the HIMSS survey, 49 percent of nursing informaticists reported a salary greater than $100,000 in 2020. Salaries were highest for doctoral degree holders—25 percent of them reported a salary at $151,000 or higher.
Skills for Nursing Informaticists
The field of nursing informatics calls for a combination of hard and soft skills. Since professionals in this field work heavily online, they need to have strong technical and computer skills. At the same time, nursing informaticists need to be able to describe and educate on systems, workflows and new technology in ways that hands-on providers can understand.
So, aspiring nursing informaticists should develop skills such as:
- Technology and system development
- Clinical experience
- Critical and analytical thinking
- Project management
How to Become a Nurse Informaticist
In addition to developing the skills listed above, professionals who want to become nursing informaticists need to pursue higher education. They will need, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in nursing. For many roles, particularly those at the executive level, a master’s degree or higher will be required.
In fact, the HIMSS survey found that advanced degrees are increasing in the field. The percentage of survey respondents with a doctor of nursing practice degree doubled between 2017 and 2020.
The Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at Wilkes University can help you prepare to work, innovate and lead in the field of nursing informatics. Featuring 100% online coursework, the program can be completed in less than two years. Mentoring-focused faculty members teach flexible 12-week courses that will teach you to apply scientific inquiry, innovation and technology to become a leader in the field of nursing. Nursing informatics coursework, for example, includes how to:
- use information systems to analyze patient data
- perform research
- evaluate project outcomes
- utilize applications in computer-based patient records, database management systems and e-health
- navigate legal and ethical issues associated with computer use in health care
With three entrance opportunities per year and affordable tuition, the CCNE-accredited Wilkes University Online DNP makes it possible for working nurses with an MSN degree to advance their current roles, broaden their career paths, and pursue new specialties. Learn more by visiting the Wilkes University Online Doctor of Nursing Practice program page.