The 4-1-1 on Nursing Informatics

February 29th, 2012

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By , BSN, RN

Healthcare information technology (HIT) is the tsunami of the future despite the industry’s seeming dogpaddle to embrace it. Every day there are new programs, new hardware and software, new demands for information and new demands for people trained in both healthcare and IT.

Nursing and nurses are set to be industry leaders in the HIT field. There are more of us, daily we are expected to understand and use the latest machinery in caring for our patients and we must chart it all on some form of electronic medical record. The field of nursing informatics is wide open and getting bigger every day.

The nurses who choose a career path in informatics are working to improve nursing care using technology. That technology can create a better work environment for nurses by:

  • Improving efficiency, safety and quality.
  • Adding value to the way nurses coordinate and provide care
  • More efficient alarm and event messaging.
  • Coordinating biomedical device integration.
  • Improving safety and recording of medication administration.

The American Nurses Association defines nursing informatics 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 have worked in the field informatics for more than 25 years, but the phrase “nursing informatics” did not appear in the literature until 1984. Since 1984, nursing informatics has established itself as a specialty in the nursing field. The ANA designated nursing informatics as a specialty practice in 1992. Subsequently, volunteer ANA members have developed a scope and standards for practice, which serves as guides for the practice.

Today, it is commonly accepted that nursing informatics means electronic information combined with nursing and any aspect of clinical practice, administration, research, or education.

 Education and Certification

A few nursing informatics courses are offered at the baccalaureate education level. These course equip the undergraduate nurse with the skills necessary to search the Internet adeptly to gather and assess evidence based practice policies, procedures and information, for themselves and for their patients. Most programs and degrees in nursing informatics are graduate and postgraduate level. Nurses with baccalaureate informatics education preparation are called informatics nurses. Those educated at the graduate level are known as informatics nurse specialists.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is the official certifying organization for informatics nurses. The prerequisites for certification include a baccalaureate or higher degree in nursing or a baccalaureate degree in a relevant field. The also include holding an active registered nurse (RN) license in the United States, and two years of RN practice plus 2,000 hours of informatics nursing practice within the previous five years or 12 hours of academic credit in a graduate program in nursing informatics and 1,000 hours of nursing informatics practice within the previous five years. Thirty contact hours of continuing education within the previous two years are also required.

One of the reasons nurses are uniquely qualified for working in nursing informatics is the nursing process parallels the systems analysis process. The systems analysis process includes: a requirements definition, analysis, a design phase, coding, testing, and implementation. The nursing process is similar; the nurse observes, assesses, diagnoses, plans, implements and evaluates.

Employment Opportunities

There are many roles, responsibilities and workplaces that a nurse specializing in informatics can take advantage of. Nurse informaticists can work in education, project management, product design and development, consulting, system selection, system testing, system implementation, research, maintenance, evaluation and theory formulation. These jobs can be found in schools of nursing, hospitals, clinics, ambulatory care centers, nursing homes, home care, or working as a representative for a vendor or consulting firm.

In 2011, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conducted its third Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey. As in the previous years of 2004 and 2007, the 2011 survey suggests that nurse informaticists play a critical role in the implementation of various clinical applications including clinical/nursing documentation and clinical information systems, computerized practitioner order entry (CPOE) and electronic medical/health records.

The majority of the 660 nurse informaticists who participated in this research survey work in a hospital settings—48 percent work at a hospital and another 20 percent work at the corporate offices of a healthcare system.

Salary and Compensation

In comparison to the previous surveys the 2011 salary data suggests a substantial increase for nurse informaticists as the average salary increased by 17 percent from 2007 and 42 percent from 2004.

The average salary of 2011 respondents is $98,702, compared to $83,675 in 2007 and $69,500 in the 2004 surveys, demonstrating the increasing maturity and value of the specialty. Consistent with the previous two surveys, only three percent of respondents indicate that their salary is not augmented by other benefits in 2011. The benefits most frequently identified are medical/dental insurance and retirement savings plans.

Based on this survey and compared to the surveys conducted in 2004 and 2007, the healthcare industry is recognizing the value of nursing informatics. One factor in particular speaks volumes to the importance of nurse informaticists in the healthcare industry: base salary. With an average salary of nearly $100, 000 (and even higher in consulting and in vendor settings) this is impressive considering the current economic landscape.

Nursing is a career choice that offers a myriad of options. It is only natural that some of those options fall in the field of high tech since that is the industry of the future. There are probably opportunities for nursing students to go straight into informatics jobs right out of school but those opportunities are few. While this may be the path you ultimately want to take a nurse should still have a year or two under their belts in direct patient care, in my opinion. Why? Because no matter how much computer training, programming, or development a nurse informaticist provides there is still a patient somewhere at the other end.

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