If, as the saying goes, "knowledge is power," then, as historian Robert Boyce has said, "knowledge shared is power multiplied." Informatics is basically information science. Health informatics sounds complicated, but it is simply sharing data to help clinicians provide better healthcare. Nurses possess a unique skill to help fuse care and clinical expertise with computer technology.
What Is Health Informatics?
Health informatics is found throughout healthcare — clinical areas, administration and economics. The terms health informatics and health information technology (IT) can be confusing because even though they often work together in harmony, they are not synonymous.
- Health IT uses computer hardware and software to record, store, protect and retrieve clinical, administrative or financial information. The Electronic Health Record (EHR) is an example.
- Health Informatics is the merging of information and healthcare. It transforms data (e.g., EHR information) into a format understandable to clinicians.
Why Is Health Informatics Important?
Care team members must be able to utilize data to bring about meaningful change. Health informatics helps them sort and analyze data to improve safety and outcomes, shape healthcare decisions and empower patients.
- Safety and Outcomes: Today's clinicians rely on technology for safe, effective patient care. For example, scanners check medicine against the patient's identification bracelet and automatically record administration in the EHR.
- Healthcare Decisions: Leaders, legislators and policymakers need information to shape healthcare. Data can help determine staffing ratios, management algorithms and cost reimbursement.
- Empowerment: Many patients now have access to their health records and communicate with their team through patient portals. This provides a powerful tool to improve patient-care team interaction and shared decision-making.
What Are the Goals of Health Informatics?
Two key goals of health informatics are improving wellness and managing disease. This can apply to an individual, an institution or organization, or even a population.
Wellness: Informatics in public health can expand surveillance and monitoring, support decision-making, and improve population health. For example, informatics is fighting the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic from all angles — frontline information, clinical, biological, and public health. To better understand the virus, high-performance computing projects such as Folding@home are running computer simulations.
Disease Management: Informatics is helpful in all aspects of disease management. It can even provide predictive alerts to save lives. For example, the Sepsis Prediction and Optimization Therapy (SPOT) flags patients with potential early sepsis signs. SPOT uses artificial intelligence to alert the care team to important, subtle changes in the patient's condition. The computer system does what no human can do, continuously monitoring the patient's vital signs, labs, and all other information — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What Is the Role of Nurses in Informatics?
Nurse informatics specialists work alongside other interdisciplinary team members to continuously improve and develop healthcare technology. According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), nurses in informatics roles are "unique, hybrid heroes of healthcare." They bridge the gap between patient care and IT teams and help provide a voice for clinicians.
The American Nurses Association describes these functions further, adding, "Nurse informatics is a 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."
Nurses in these positions often work with clinical nursing leadership and end users to identify issues or opportunities to improve the quality of care, safety, satisfaction, or efficiency of nursing care. They may also work as educators, telehealth support, researchers and nurse executives.
Every nurse can have a voice in patient care technology, whether on the front lines, in leadership or simply as an EMR user. As the most frequent customer, they can offer ideas to ensure safe and efficient practice.
Are you an innovator who enjoys developing solutions for complex issues? Do you have an affinity for technology? Are you both collaborative and autonomous? If so, you may want to explore a career in health informatics. Nurses with strong critical thinking skills, who thrive in evidence-based practice working with technology and collaborative problem-solving are ideal candidates for a career in nursing informatics.
Learn more about the University of North Carolina Wilmington's online MSN Nurse Educator program.
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